A STATEMENT FOR THE 38TH GENERAL COUNCIL: ISSUES FACING THE CHURCH
Prepared by John Lee for the election of the Moderator at the 38th General Council Meeting, The United Church of Canada
Led by the Spirit, as Ezekiel prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, there were sinews on them, flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
We gather at the 38th General Council meeting as we hear the awesome call of God to live out our trust in God in the world of many unpredictable changes, diversities and uncertainties. The world we live in is now being pushed into fast changes in a new world order by globalization. Not only is globalization a new phenomenon, but it brings with it a new culture. The development of technology in transportation, communication and emerging digital era spawns new needs and new problems, and these necessitate new ways of thinking and working. On top of this, confrontations between nation and nation, people and people, religion and religion, continue to escalate in a frightening manner. We have many difficult tasks in front of us. In our faithful journey of trusting God and trusting each other, we need to discover who we are as bearers of God's image.
Hope out of despair” is a grand theme of the Bible. We know that the problems and issues that we are dealing with in our faith journey are the places we find hope. Our gathering with the theme, “There Is Hope” means to me that we are already in the midst of hope. This hope can be realized through actively living out justice, reconciliation and healing. I believe, the 38th General Council meeting will be an event of our affirmation of Hope, a worshipping event that celebrates God’s presence in our life.
We, The United Church of Canada, affirmed, in 1988, our acceptance of all human beings as persons made in the image of God, regardless of their sexual orientation. The federal government, in proposing the legalization of same-sex unions, has essentially adopted a position that mirrors that of The United Church of Canada. This recent story of “change” in Canadian society tells us how we must faithfully commit ourselves to Jesus’ teaching and his ministry and bring about a vision for the world.
On our ongoing journey we continue to struggle to nurture spiritual life and to strive for justice in dealing with the issues that we are facing: resolution of residential school issues; recognizing the gifts of different sexual orientations; actualizing God’s peace in a world where people are confronting each other with increasing hatred and violence. We also work seriously to develop healthy ministries: to rethink evangelism in today’s pluralistic society; to promote stewardship and membership in congregations; to build just relationships in our culturally diverse church; to promote younger people’s participation and speaking out on issues; to work on the isolation of ministers in our church; and to reform communication tools in this new digital era.
To cope with the church’s effective service for changing society, we have been constantly seeking new ways, from the congregational level to the national, to bring a new vision to the world and to serve the world better. We have long established traditions with many positive experiences which have served us well in the past. But, for our future journey, we also know that some of these experiences that were considered to be positive, have, later on, sometimes become hindrances preventing us from working in new ways. This leads us to focus and reflect on "change" with a fresh, Spirit-filled energy and necessitates mutual support while valuing our many differences and diverse gifts.
At this point in our history, we are challenged by change on a grand scale. We have seen and experienced the pain and confusion that has accompanied recent first-stage changes in General Council Office structure. Nevertheless, hopeful dreams and visions can continue to guide us. The remit to change the national church structure has been defeated but it remains a task to be dealt with. Many say that a new structure is ideal but ‘we are not ready yet’ or ‘it is not the right time’. We need to focus on the problem areas and be prepared to search out the solutions. I value the wisdom of those who participate in this big change, and am positive that we can prepare a more efficient structure to better serve the changing world.
There are many issues but it is hard to select any one as “the” primary one. The reality is that, in most cases, we have to deal with many issues simultaneously with the same energy. It is a difficult job, but it is possible since we are one body with many parts that is with many gifts. The question is “how” we will make it happen. All these current issues call us to develop better means and ways of communication.
The subject matter of communication is vast: to understand the dynamic of globalization and a new concept of power structure; to recognize differences between pre-modern and post-modern ways of thinking and acting; to recognize and honour the differences in life styles such as young and old, rural and urban; to discover the gifts in aboriginal spirituality and wisdom; and to utilize digital communication tools and systems. All these will create a healthy network connecting individuals, congregations and the many working units within the church’s structure as one body that will eventually enable the church to share its dreams and hopes, and bring to fruition its vision of life for the whole world.
The United Church of Canada is a living institution that reflects faithfully God’s will for creation. It is a wonderful body with “many faces” and a living being with “many cells.” We, each one of us, are part of this wonderful body and we are called to reach out, individually and collectively, to the ends of the world, to each part of God’s whole creation. One of the moderator’s mandates is to visit throughout the United Church. The primary role of moderator in this mandate, as I understand it, is to find the God-given beauty in each face and let it be reflected; to hear the stories of joy and pain of each cell; to help each one reveal unique gifts; and to help connect each cell to become a healthy body that is filled with new fresh energy.
My dream is that we will get to know each other on a deeper level through our shared stories and ideas by building networks within our United Church and lifting up our many hidden treasures, unique gifts and wisdom. I hope we will shorten the distance between the local church members and many working units within our church structure. The raison d’etre of the church is to carry its vision into the future. If we lag far behind in this fast changing world, we are not doing the right job. We need to find ways to promote fast thinking with accuracy through fast open communication and enhance the speed of our thinking and working with a sense of new joy and excitement.
As we read the signs of the times in our world, we find that The United Church of Canada has the gift of remarkable diversity. This gift of diversity becomes a blessing when we recognise and celebrate it as God's gift to us. As we communicate with one another efficiently with mutual respect and understanding, with all possible ways and tools, we will be able to come closer and we will connect with each other to share stories, hopes and dreams. My wish in the coming years is that, we encounter each other heart to heart, face to face, hand in hand, and that we feel the sense of being one body – a truly united church.
In this our journey, I see a vision of a burning bush, the flame of the Holy Spirit that grows and spreads from coast to coast to coast throughout the whole of Canada, and to the ends of the world. In this our journey together, we raise our voices in joy and praise: We are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God!
Updated September 1, 2003
(c) Copy right by John Young-Jung Lee