Time to change our church conversations

By Rev Paul Wallfall

Paul WalfallIn our conversations about United Church restructuring, let’s put more emphasis on what makes us the Church: Our Mission and Ministry.

Since the Newfoundland General Council conversations led us towards restructuring and subsequent conversations and decisions made by the GC Executive, I continue to reflect on what type of change we really expect in the church. I’m concerned we are more preoccupied by structures than Mission and Ministry.

The conversations seem to suggest that if we find a more effective way to organise ourselves or a better bureaucracy then we will have a better church. In so many ways, I feel that we have the same conversations over and over again: fewer people seem to come to church; contributions to local churches and the Mission and Service fund are diminishing and many pastoral shares no longer can afford full-time ministry personnel. While these are real concerns, I wonder if they are symptoms of the problem and not the real problem. So, let’s change the conversations we are having, just a little. Because the conversations we are having don’t seem to get us anywhere beyond where we have been and ignore the fundamental question of what makes us church.

Shortly after arriving in Canada, I met a gay man who told me about his life and how the proclamation of one United Church congregation influenced his not ending that life.

One night he left a non-United Church religious event to head to an Edmonton bridge. He no longer wanted to feel like an aberration and error because of his sexual orientation. But along the way he passed a United Church sign which proclaimed that God loves the gay and the queer. He told me he was thankful for that United Church for sharing its story.

Sign of God - 1    We have Good News to share. And telling that Good News is called evangelism.

Last October, the ANW Conference Executive set evangelism as part of its priorities (https://albertanorthwestconference.ca/13960-conference-executive-sets-priorities/). To be honest, I have heard a great deal of fear that an evangelism focus takes the church backwards. Yet many see an emphasis on evangelism as an opportunity for the church to be renewed.

But let’s be clear on the difference between evangelism and evangelicalism. The latter describes the more conservative members of our wider Christian Church family. But evangelism is a reminder to us as church that we have good news to tell, we have a story to share.

Evangelism is the Good News that:

  • we are not alone, we live in God’s world and God is still with us.
  • God’s love reaches beyond barriers and borders that we human beings set up because of race, gender, sexual orientation and culture.
  • God welcomes all and that all can experience the redeeming love of God and our stories of these welcoming and redemptive experiences
  • God’s grace is not dead nor old fashion; amazing grace is at work in our contemporary world.

Just before his installation as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of USA, the Most Rev. Michael Curry was asked how he viewed his new role. He said he was “CEO” of the Episcopal Church and then defined CEO as “Chief Evangelism Officer.” To Curry that means being the main person to tell those outside and inside the Church the good news of what God is continuing to do in our world.

The United Church Manual tells me that the role of the Conference President is to “offer spiritual leadership” to the conference. Let me take a risk here. For it would seem that included in that job description is the challenge to be the CEO of Conference – the Chief Evangelism Officer.

It is my firm belief that we in this ANW Conference have good news to tell to the people of Alberta, British Columbia, the Territories and Saskatchewan. We have stories to share with our communities that God is working still in our communities. We have stories of hope to share.   Let me mention some examples of the good news we have to proclaim.

  • It is a message hope being told through many United Churches’s myriad of outreach activities. In communities such as Cold Lake to those who are being negatively affected by the current economic downturn our United Church has partnered with other churches to help those who need a helping hand.
  • It is stories of love and concern that we have hear from countless Pastoral Charges to care for the stranger and welcome refugees — not because it will get more people into our pews — but because we worship a God who loves.
  • It is the message we tell as we make a stance against poverty, especially among children, as we see our UCW doing.
  • It is the good news of the God whose love includes and we see it and hear it in the work of places like the Young Queer Church begun last month in Calgary and Edmonton Presbytery in intentionally reaching out to young gay, lesbian and transgendered persons to remind them that they are included in the loving embrace of God.

There are many, many more stories that could be included here. Part of the problem is that we have not been sharing these stories enough or we feel that we have no stories to share.

So I believe that the conversation needs to change in our church. It is a change from talking about how we will maintain the structures of the church to how we will share our stories of what God is doing in our churches and through our churches. For as we share the stories we are sharing good news; good news that we are not alone, we live in God’s world . . .

For 2016 it is my hope that this new conversation will begin.

Blessings to each of you.

I remain your CEO for Christ’s sake,

     Paul Douglas Walfall (Rev.)