By Rev. Paul Walfall
Paul Walfall     On June 10 this year we celebrated the 91st anniversary of The United Church of Canada’s formation. We celebrated the vision and determination of the antecedent denominations to step out on a bold new journey into union. History records that the move was a somewhat polarizing one in Canada as there were strong opponents to the union.  Today, we recognize that there is much to celebrate in our journey of faith thus far and still there is much work to do in continuing the vision started 91 years ago.
It was during one of the discussions about Remit #1, currently before Pastoral Charges and Presbyteries, that I found myself listening to an intriguing discussion about “what are Communities of Faith?”  The discussion morphed into a conversation about what makes a group of people a church?  I was taken back to my courses in Christian Education where I was taught that in an earlier period of the church’s history, the church was defined as “a body of believers in God who exhibited the following characteristics:
  1. Fellowship (koinonia)
  2. Worship (leiturgia)
  3. Witness (marturia)
  4. Service (diaconia)
  5. Teaching (didache)
   All five were necessary to be present within the group and it was noted that each strengthens the others.  The reality is that even if worship is powerful and vibrant, witness to social justice issues is strong, service through outreach dynamic and the teaching ministries of the church are on point, if there is a problem with the fellowship of the congregation then the church will be weak.  What is also powerful about the understanding above is that it does not place an emphasis on an edifice or building.

St.-Andrews-Calgary Regional Youth-Camp-2016-1-44

In an earlier period of the church’s history, the church was defined as “a body of believers in God who exhibited the characteristics of Fellowship, Worship, Witness, Service and Teaching. (Photo from June 2016 Camp — St. Andrew’s Calgary Regional Youth Ministries)

It could be that a difficulty of being church has always been to take all five activities seriously and constantly seek to strengthen them. Care must be taken to ensure that all five are as effective as they can be.   One of my concerns for The United Church of Canada today is that I see much emphasis on some of the five characteristics, but sadly from where I sit some the attention given to some is not as strong. Among those that I have seen some weakness has been in our teaching and faith formation ministries.
A colleague recalls speaking to a congregation one Sunday about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. She was saddened that the majority of adults present indicated that they had never heard the story before. It could well be that they heard the story before but didn’t commit it to memory. The main concern here, however, is whether the stories of our faith are being lost or no longer being taught.  It is from an understanding of what faith in God through Jesus is all about that enables us to clarify and discern what God is calling the church to be in the present age. The faith formation ministry of the church equips us to know who we are, what we are and why we are as we engage in the Mission of the church.
So as we celebrate another year of existence as a Christian denomination in Canada it may well be a time for us to do some ‘stock taking” in our respective congregations and inquire what is the state of our fellowship, worship, witness, service and teaching ministries?  We do so not to beat up ourselves with what is not happening, but to seek ways to ensure that however good they are now that they can improve.  As we do so I pray that you will have the courage to change the things that can be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.

Blessings and peace to you.
I remain your servant for Jesus’ sake,
Paul Douglas Walfall (Rev’d.)
President, ANW Conferenc