“For the past 90 years, the United Church has been making a difference in the lives of countless people in communities across Canada and around the world. Those of us who are part of it have experienced something of the venture in faith that the inauguration of the United Church promised. It is that heritage that we celebrate and hope to pass on – sharing the faith in word and deed, willing to be candid about our failings but not immobilized by them, and working together in and for God’s world”*
Ninety years ago this coming Wednesday – June 10th – The United Church of Canada came into being. Meeting as a congregation of 7,000 in Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena on that day in 1925 (see the picture above), there was no doubt joy that this thing that had been worked on for decades among the Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches had finally come to fruition. There was sadness, also, that one third of the Presbyterians had chosen not to join – yes they’re still around. And there was no doubt optimism that this venture would not only succeed, but thrive over the decades to come – after all by its simple coming into being, the United Church became, by far, the largest protestant denomination in the nation. And at that time, and for decades to come, that made a difference.
So what happens after the celebration this coming week?
Phyllis Airhart – my former church history professor at Emmanuel College – in her article in the United Church Observer this month that I quoted above is cautiously optimistic about the future of the denomination. Even after decades of declining membership, even after being shamed by our role in the Native Residential Schools, even after giving voice to unpopular, if necessary, stances on different issues since our creation, Dr. Airhart still thinks we have a future.
That’s not to say we won’t have our challenges. The greatest will probably come out of this summer’s General Council where the national meeting of the church will be asked to consider a complete reshaping of our structures. As the Comprehensive Review Task Force put it bluntly – “We would have to let go of things we have always done and things we cherish. We would have to live within our means and accept that we will be smaller”
Being church means risking. Those first few knew that at the first Pentecost 2,000 years ago. Those who gathered in that hockey arena on June 10, 1925 knew that. And we know it.
But … we are not alone; we live in God’s world.
*‘Do We Still Believe that Something Vital is in the Making – The United Church of Canada at 90’, Phyllis Airhart, The United Church Observer,