Wednesday, June 10, 2015


This morning we rang the bell at St. Andrew's-St. Mark's United Church in Long Sault 90 times to mark the 90th anniversary of The United Church of Canada. The bell rang at 10:30 AM, the time that the inaugural worship service of the United Church began on June 10, 1925, as Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalist, and members of local Union churches streamed into the old Mutual Street Arena in Toronto singing "The Church's One Foundation." Many United Church communities of faith across the country are celebrating the anniversary with bell ringing, and as bells aren't as common now as they once were, some are using hand bells, noisemakers or electronic ring tones. Check #90Bells on Twitter to track the commemorations!

This is the prayer used at that inaugural service 90 years ago:

O God, who to an expectant and united church didst grant at Pentecost the gift of the Holy Spirit, and hast wonderfully brought into one fold those who now worship thee here: Grant us the hope of the same Spirit in all our life and worship that we may expect great things from thee, and attempt great things for thee, and being one in thee may show the world that thou didst send Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Truth and Reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is finishing its six years of work, having heard from over 7,000 witnesses to the terrible experience of Indian residential schools run by churches (including The United Church of Canada, and the Methodist and Presbyterian churches which preceded the formation of our denomination) on behalf of the federal government. The Commission calls this school system "cultural genocide" against Aboriginal peoples.

The Commission's report tells the story of those who survived residential schools, and the thousands who did not, and makes 94 recommendations. Several of these are particular to churches, so here they are in full:

Church Apologies and Reconciliation

58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

59. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.

60. We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own rights, the history and legacy of residential schools and the role of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.

61. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:
i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
ii. Community-controlled culture-and language revitalization projects.
iii. Community -controlled education and relationship building projects.
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation.

Churches responding to the report's findings have said:

We acknowledge and welcome the specific calls to action that offer direction to the churches in our continuing commitment to reconciliation. In particular, we are committed to respect Indigenous spiritual traditions in their own right. As individual churches and in shared interfaith and ecumenical initiatives – for example through Kairos, through interfaith groups, and through the Canadian Council of Churches – we will continue to foster learning about and awareness of the reality and legacy of the residential schools, the negative impact of such past teachings as the Doctrine of Discovery, and the new ways forward found in places, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We will continue our commitment to financial support for community-controlled initiatives in healing, language and cultural revitalization, education and relationship-building, and self-determination.
May it be so.