Responsibilities are distributed - some rest with each pastoral charge (roughly equivalent to ‘congregation’ in other systems), some, now, with regional councils (previously Presbyteries embedded in larger Conferences), and the remainder with the national General Council (effectively the General Council Executive between the tri-annual Council meetings)
The unity of the church is founded on trust. For example, Congregations are to handle membership by the same rules everywhere, so that a member in one congregation is held to the same standard of faith as in any other congregation. This allows membership transfer when moving, and a host of other consequences for governing congregations, from choosing clergy to serve them, to sending delegates to higher other courts.
Conferences, when they existed way back in 2018, had oversight of ordination and commissioning, the nation-wide certification of members for ministry to a congregation. How very important for congregations to be sure that ordination follows the same rules in every conference, for they will be choosing ministers from the national pool, and, as our current moderator stated, “As a Christian church, we continue to expect that ministers in The United Church of Canada will offer their leadership in accordance with our shared and agreed upon statements of faith, celebrating the sacraments, and praying that all who are part of the denomination will help people to love, as Jesus put it, “God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, NRSV).”
Nice sentiment, except that if congregations or conferences breach their contractual obligations in the manual, they shatter the trust that allows the denomination to function in unity of faith and mission.
This is what has happened in last year’s decision of Toronto Conference to permit the continued ordained ministry of a self proclaimed, atheist who has published her opinion that Christian belief is dangerous, that “ours is not a time in which personal religious beliefs can be welcomed into the public sphere; . . We must boldly stand with those who would clear the public sphere from the prejudices of religious belief even as we defend the rights of individuals to hold whatever beliefs allow them to sleep at night.” http://www.grettavosper.ca/letter-gary-paterson-regarding-paris/
Apparently believing in God is no longer a requirement for ordination in the Toronto Region. Now, when a congregation goes through the resumés of ordained and commissioned clergy they must ask, “Does this one believe in God? In the Cross? In the Resurrection? The Bible?”
Reading some of the correspondence between Pastoral Charges and Head Office I see a clear avoidance of the issue on the part of General Council Executive. We are advised that a congregation can raise concerns with the Shining Waters Regional Council that now has oversight of West Hill United Church, or we can address our complaint to the new Office of Vocation that now oversees ministry personnel, or we can petition the General Council for a change in policy -
This is rich! Should we ask for a policy stating that existing policy should be followed? And then next month we’ll ask for a policy stating that the previous policy enforcing existing policy should be obeyed, ad infinitum. . .
- or we can just sit back and let the Spirit fix things. Seriously- this is the advice of Head Office on behalf of the Moderator! (Look towards the end of this https://oldmenandtrees.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/open-letter.)
So General Council Executive, with a host of full time staff, expertise and the concillar prerogative and responsibility to call other courts of the church to obey the rule of law, has chosen to do nothing in response to this breach of responsibility. Then when a congregation asks them to step up to the plate, they say do it yourself, or better yet let the Spirit fix things.
So to the list of bodies that have shattered the trust that once united a church - add General Council Executive.
Strong words come to my mind, which are not fitting for this article. But perhaps I can advise all the congregations paying 4.5% of their budget to the big do-nothing staff at Head Office. Don’t bother to pay those assessments to General Council. The Spirit will take care of them.