Many moons ago, at age 11, I attended The United Church of Canada’s 31st General Council. These national meetings of the denomination happen every three years and are a time when big decisions are made and future paths are charted.
Being a kid, I was part of the “Children at Council” program. It was much like a day camp designed to occupy us while our parents voted on matters before the national church. There was a clown, ice cream cups and lots of songs with actions.
Easily the most significant event at that 1986 gathering was the church’s apology to Indigenous peoples for its part in colonization. While I remember witnessing this historic event, it took decades longer for me to understand its magnitude. The apology that day was acknowledged but not accepted: the Indigenous church is still waiting for the rest of the church to live out its words.
This year, the national church met again for the 44th General Council — this time online and spread over several months, rather than the traditional week in person. Broadview covers this meeting because we are affiliated with The United Church of Canada. We are editorially independent, but the denomination gives us an annual grant and many of our subscribers and donors are United Church members.
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One of the most significant decisions of this year’s meeting was to elect Rev. Carmen Lansdowne as moderator, the church’s spiritual leader. Lansdowne, who graces our cover and is profiled in the issue, is the first Indigenous woman to serve as moderator, and only the second Indigenous moderator in the church’s 97-year history. To meet the demands of the job, she is taking a three-year leave from her position as executive director of First United Church Community Ministry Society, a multifaceted outreach to street-affected people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
People in the church often say that the General Council elects the moderator it needs. I believe that to be true in Lansdowne’s case, especially given the recent confirmation of unmarked graves at church-run residential schools. Her election suggests that the United Church has come a long way in its journey toward reconciliation and is perhaps drawing closer to living out its 1986 apology.
More on Broadview:
- Day school survivors need access to United Church archives
- Carmen Lansdowne is now the first Indigenous woman to lead a Canadian church
- How the United Church got into the business of residential schools
But it’s important to temper that hope with a realistic view of the work ahead. The church continues to struggle with racism, colonialism, white privilege and their associated issues. Lansdowne speaks to this in her vision statement for the church: “Can we pivot in a three-year period and shed our colonial baggage, solving all of our societal, political, economic or environmental problems? No.”
The church, however, can listen, discern, pray, listen again and try to keep setting its feet on the path toward reconciliation, toward living out its apology. As Lansdowne writes: “Being an intercultural church together means that we are radically committed to community, to granting each other dignity and listening to each other in ways that transform who each of us is and who we are together.”
Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of Broadview.
This editorial first appeared in Broadview’s October/November 2022 issue with the title “A time to listen.”
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