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Topics: UCC in Focus | Religion

Is the United Church going to disappear?

Rev. Christopher White answers a Broadview reader's worried question

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Q: I am hearing of so many churches closing right now, and that makes me worried for the denomination’s future. Is the United Church going to disappear?

A: No and yes. I believe that the United Church is evolving into something different, so no, it won’t disappear. But will the institutional church as we know it disappear? Yes, I think it will.

Membership has already been evaporating over the last three decades. To this you can add that many congregations are aging and just tired, and that some in emerging generations see church as either a curiosity or toxic.


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The United Church was formed back in 1925 because the existing structures at the time no longer made sense. In a different way, we have begun a similar process. For example, we have undertaken “mutual recognition of ministries” with other denominations, including the United Church of Christ (U.S.A.), which means we accept the credentials of each other’s ministers.

With technology, we can look at sharing resources and virtual staff members with other denominations in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Here in Canada, I think it is only a matter of time before some type of intense collaboration with the Anglican and Presbyterian churches will begin.

Our current structures are designed to maintain an institution, not create something new. But here is what I see as good news. Once we stop spending so much energy on palliative care, we can move into rebirth.

The story of the Christian faith in Canada is far from over, but the chapters written in the 20th century are coming to their natural end. The opportunity before us is to write new ones — and that is both exciting and life-giving.

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This story first appeared in Broadview’s December 2021 issue with the title “Is the Church Disappearing?”


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  • says:

    People's ways of thinking are changing. A wise person once said "God is real, but not what you think." I've been reading a lot about quantum physics lately about the endless field of energy from which the universe is made. In ancient times this was referred to as "spirit." Through it, we are all connected. Ancient people didn't have the science but they knew there was "something more than the physical world." As I read the more I feel that spirituality and science can coexist. But thought patterns have to change and it is time for ministers to take the leap and start teaching the things they've learned in seminary but have not shared with their congregations. I am hopeful that the church will continue as a place of love, compassion, sharing and morality. It is necessary as a value-giver to society.

    Replies

    • says:

      WELL SAID. Even the great physicist, Hawkins, in his book on little comments on great things comes close to saying that there had to be a Presence at the beginnings. Your last two sentences are basic teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

  • says:

    "Once we stop spending so much energy on palliative care, we can move into rebirth."
    Rev. White, if you don't know what is causing the death of the denomination now, how are you going to maintain life in the future?
    Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
    I would suggest that the United Church needs to figure out that if their "Christianity" is dying, when the founder "Christ" never dies, what is causing the trouble? (Hint - obviously not the founder)
    If the church is seen as a "social club" or a "social outreach" why bother attending? There are plenty of those in the world, which is why people take their kids to sports on Sunday morning, or spend it at the "off leash" park.
    What do you offer that is different and maintains my interest?
    "Good news" isn't keeping attendance numbers, "Good News" is the founder of the Christian faith.

  • says:

    Will the United Church arise from the ashes like a Phoenix ??
    An entrenched priesthood whose inner being was established in 200 A>D> andthen formed into a rock in 400 A.D. says that the church will not arise from the ashes of "stuckedness". I'll never forget an older woman who told me as I started a ministry that she did not want anything to change i the church before she died.
    She, her church, I and so much in the world changed within that 5 minutes. The wonder of the Universe is its power to give birth to new life every moment. I just watched a Suzuki documentary that showed that. AS a people in our language, our structures, our practices, our rituals, many of our biblical beliefs HAVEN'T CHANGED. Gretta Vosbergh painfully points this out & suggests a route for the church to rise from the ashes but they aren't easy to put into practice. Because of the church I grew up in, I've lived her suggestions as my guide as an adult for SIXTY years. This is not the place in which to write another book when so many have been written from within various denominations.

    The fundaamental for me that I also see in Pastor Vosbergh's book, is a reinventing for our age of the basic message of Jesus as he tore apart the temple , said " let the little children come unto me & forbid them not & the song Jesus loves the little children.
    ALL the children of the world. We are called to LOVE one another for LOVE is of God or ! Cor: 13.

  • says:

    On Christopher White’s response to the demise of the U.C.O.C. is very “ life affirming”. Looking at it both ways ( yes and no) affirms the need for rebirth or resurrection. For this to happen and parallel the life of Christ, the Church needs to experience , for some, an agonizing death for transformation to occur. We must accept
    Christopher’s “ vision and hope”.

    Replies

    • says:

      YES.

  • says:

    I think that Chris is spot on. I have been doing ministry for almost forty years and I have worked within a church that was well into a long and steady process of decline. But I too am not worried. Ecclesiates 3 teaches us that all things have a season. I believe that a new season is coming.

  • says:

    A retired United Church Minister, I attended Emmanuel College with Christopher. After serious surgery in March 2020, I had time to reflect on the state of the Church now, and my participation in this institution that meant so much to me for professional reasons. Now I find myself in a very awkward position, living among people who try to hang on to an old structure, with no attention for the very real prophetic nature of Christianity. My focus now has to rest on those who still have a voice that carries the prophetic understanding and respect.