Michael Blair. (Photo: Daniel Ehrenworth)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Interview

Michael Blair on where the United Church should go from here

The new general secretary says it's time to look at congregational cultures

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Rev. Michael Blair has worked at the United Church’s General Council office since 2008, first as executive minister for ethnic ministries and then for the Church in Mission unit. In November, he became general secretary, the denomination’s top administrator.

On his call: When I was 15 or 16, I was at a service in Kingston, Jamaica. The minister got held up, so I felt moved to stand up and start the service. When the minister arrived, I started to sit down, but he told me to keep going — so I led the worship. That was a significant moment for me and was an affirmation of my call to ministry. I have never looked back from that moment.

I want that to happen in our communities of faith: that we can nurture and develop the gifts and talents of the people in our pews.

On opportunities: The United Church has this incredible gift of property all across the country. We need to reimagine how our property can become a connection point in our communities, a place to build relationships. Too many of our congregations have become disconnected from the communities where they live. When churches are calling new clergy, the question needs to be asked: “Who is in our neighbourhood, and are we looking at candidates who look like that neighbourhood?”

We also need to help the folks in the pews articulate the story of their faith. When people are excited about their faith and their church, they can’t help but tell other people about it. I see the role of the General Council office as helping to facilitate these conversations.


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On embracing difference: There is a sameness in our worship right across the country, and we need to do more intercultural engagement. In 2012, I was in Angola with our partner church and experienced thriving denominations there: each minister was responsible for five congregations, with over 1,000 people at each service. I was asked to preach, and it was an incredible experience preaching to that many people.

Yet sometimes people come to attend our churches from these overseas contexts, and we are dismissive of their gifts and treat them like children. Yes, there are some theological issues we need to address, but if we are truly The United Church of Canada, we need to reflect this diversity and be open to their gifts and leadership.

On renewal: Culture eats strategy for breakfast every single time, and it’s time to look at our congregational cultures. We need to have vital and vibrant communities of faith. I think we seem to have missed engaging with the Gospel as a transformative experience. How much transformation are our people actually experiencing? How can we rediscover what discipleship means so we can encounter the radical love of God through Jesus? We have not attended to a truly missional approach, but now that is a real possibility.

On what he does for fun: I really enjoy landscape photography and exploring parks. I’m also a fan of science fiction on TV. To relax, I do adult colouring books, and I’m developing a taste for gin and tonics!

On looking forward: I am excited to be able to contribute to the future of the United Church. In 2025, we will celebrate its centenary, and that for me will be a critical time. We need to be reclaiming what God is calling us to do for the next 100 years. I believe that God will lead us into the future built upon the richness of our past.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. It first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2021 issue with the title “God will lead us into the future.”


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