General Secretary Rev. Michael Blair. He says the General Council Executive actions will be reported on the General Council 44 website, and the meeting summaries and minutes will be posted on The United Church of Canada Commons website. (Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Church News

United Church annual recall meeting attendees debate excluding the public and the media from General Council Executive meetings

Some attendees said they welcome working without media scrutiny, while others say they worry how this will impact people's trust and donations towards the church


Mardi Tindal, a former United Church Moderator and Broadview board member, had questions for General Council 44’s October annual recall meeting about Broadview’s, commissioners’ and the public’s exclusion from General Council Executive meetings earlier this year.

But the answers reveal the situation is unlikely to change.

Technical difficulties in the virtual meeting kept Tindal from speaking during an accountability session with General Secretary Rev. Michael Blair and the Executive so she had to type her question into a “chat” function — accessible to all 113 Commissioners in attendance, but usually used for more informal matters.

There, Tindal pointed out she “didn’t see anything in the General Secretary’s report or the General Council Executive accountability report about the decision to close GCE meetings to Commissioners, visitors and the public in general, including the media.” She added that likely because of her position as a former moderator, she had been copied on “many letters to the General Council Executive, expressing concern about this decision.”

Tindal said her concerns were not just about Broadview’s ability to monitor and report on church decisions but also “about the impact of this decision on the health of the church.”

“I worry that it will have a negative impact on trust, relationships and donations. I’m also concerned with how this decision aligns with our theology, polity and ethos. With respect to priorities named in the GCE accountability report, I find it difficult to understand how this decision helps the GCE ‘act in trustworthy ways’ with the wider church (as suggested by a church governance report) and how it supports the work of decolonizing governance.”

Tindal asked: “How has the GCE reflected on the concerns that have been shared with you by many people from across the church, and will the GCE reconsider this decision?”

In response, Blair and Kit (Kathleen) Loewen, chair of Executive’s business committee, did not address concerns from letters but largely repeated assertions made earlier this year, that the 18-member Executive — about a quarter of the size of the Executive before church restructuring in 2019 — needs to work without media scrutiny to allow it to make its best decisions on governance.

“I think that the primary obligation is to sound decision-making in a trustworthy environment, where we feel open to being vulnerable, to being frank, to being risk-takers is a primary commitment,” said Loewen. “We look to ourselves to assure that our accountability to the church and to this body are integral and honest and direct.” A retired teacher and teacher’s union administrator, Loewen also serves on the board of the United Church Pension Plan.

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For his part, Blair told the 113 gathered General Council 44 commissioners “the Executive is trying to come to terms with what a smaller, leaner Executive looks like and how it does its work. Part of the way in which it’s doing its work is having a lot of full strategic and generative conversations.

“So a lot of the time that it’s spending is having these generative strategic conversations to provide framework for their decision-making… we are testing ideas… we are trying to discern through having these conversations what it is calling the United Church to do and be in these changing times.”

Generative conversations are popularly defined as those “that involve genuine inquiry and sharing and lead to expanded understanding and shared meaning.”

Blair also says actions of the Executive are reported on the General Council 44 website and summaries and minutes on The United Church of Canada Commons website. However, it took five weeks after the Executive’s September 23 meeting before the minutes were posted.

Rev. Cathy Hamilton, a retired minister in Wentworth-Nord, Que., and GC commissioner — who spearheaded the working group that oversaw the creation of the church’s new structure — told Blair she appreciated his explanation.

But she added, “I very often hear about the decisions of the Executive from the firestorm that has happened on social media. And I have no background for it, and I have no communication for it. And if we’re going to do this, then I really need more effective communications, deeper background, and I need faster information on what decisions have been made and why they’ve been made.”

Broadview journalists and others are no longer allowed to attend Executive meetings, and journalists must contact General Council Executive members or General Council staff only through church communications staff. 

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Rev. Samuel Vauvert Dansokho, minister of the Plymouth-Trinity pastoral charge in Sherbrooke, Que., and a member of the General Council Executive, speaking in French, said he was “in total solidarity” with the general secretary and the chair of the business committee.

“What is needed… is actually courage and faith, to resist the indecent invasion of cameras everywhere. There are many programs called reality shows. We are not a reality show. Sometimes, yes, one needs calm, vulnerability, one needs to resist this culture of instant response, with the need to transmit everything instantly.”

 “I don’t want to say much more, but yes, one is aware that communication could be better, but without going further into the social networks, this culture of the instantaneous in which we are engaged.” 


Mike Milne is a writer in Owen Sound, Ont. 

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