Q The United Church is currently selling a lot of property across the country. Given our history with residential schools and our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, should we be giving a portion of every sale to Indigenous communities?
A This is a question that has been bubbling around the church but has not yet been acted on from a policy perspective. Last September, the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle, a group of Indigenous leaders from across the United Church, published “Calls to the Church,” a document directing the denomination to live out its reconciliation commitment. It includes a statement on this precise question calling for a policy “that would ensure there is a percentage of the proceeds of property liquidation allocated to Indigenous ministry and justice work.”
The money is truly needed. There are churches and manses in All Native Circle Conference that require upgrading and even lack basic furnishings, says Joe McGill, a community capacity development co-ordinator for the Aboriginal Ministries Circle. He points out that in places where social services are lacking, the church often steps in to fill the gap. More support is needed to ensure the financial viability of these community ministries.
Charlene Burns, who works in the same position for Western Canada and is also the acting executive minister for the Aboriginal Ministries Circle, echoes McGill’s words. She says the Calls to the Church proposal is already being unofficially lived out in several congregations. For example, when Zion United in Regina sold its building, part of the proceeds were donated to the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, which provides theological training for Indigenous people to enter lay and ordered ministry. She also says that the Aboriginal Ministries Council will consider what this proposal means for the whole church and make further recommendations in advance of the next General Council meeting in July.
My own feeling is that there will be widespread support across the denomination for Calls to the Church. Donating the proceeds of a church building sale to Indigenous ministries in particular could provide a living legacy for those congregations that are closing or being reimagined. This is an idea whose time has come and is an act of simple justice.
Rev. Christopher White is a minister in Toronto.
This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Observer with the title “Should churches give a portion of land sales to Indigenous communities?”