Posts Tagged ‘United Church observer’


March 2019 the United Church Observer switched mast heads. I got the propaganda leading up to the re-brand, as even though I was in and out of the UCC as a member, lay pastor, pulpit supply, teacher, and surrendered ordination (read my book on their venom towards kids with disabilities), I still enjoyed the Observer. They would bring timely articles, strong writers from across progressive Christianities to the table, like the Presbyterian Record it was a magazine of note, and still created space to share denominational news. The Presbyterian Record closed up shop, and an exclusive denom only newspaper replaced it leaving the Observer as the longest running denominational periodical. Then in April 2019 they became Broadview. The publishers assumed long-time subscribers would continue without seeing the new product, I am not a subscribe sight unseen kind of person with the cost of magazines, with no free trial, I let my subscription lapse stating if I saw it on the magazine rack I would pick it up (as I would see the Observer on racks in bookstores, never did see Broadview).

So why the shift? Partly it was stated to create more subscribers and readers (kind of the failed evangelical experiment of being “seeker sensitive” so you take the churchy out), partly I think it was due to the change in polity structure of the church, and the elimination of the territory-presbyteries for zones, that left this periodical floundering or just the aging demographics saw the usual decline.

So, an offer of free trial issues before subscribing finally popped up. I took advantage and got the issue. It was not the Observer. If I did not know it was associated with the United Church and had bought it at a newsstand based on the articles I would feel a bait and switch had happened. For within the back pages is the “News” from the UCC churches. It falls flat, the excitement and pep I had read from congregations and ministries in the Observer are gone, I don’t know if its because they are just trying to do “sound bites” but it rings hollow and like a prairie bible tract of the 19th century. As for the articles, there was decent information on issues if you have never been online, or read a news magazine in the last 20 years. It was pedantic. The writers I had enjoyed that in their articles and op-eds that caused one to pause and contemplate or discuss with others– were missing. The letters to the editor had no discourse either, in either section (they had 2), it read like a political parties echo chamber on twitter– all ra ra, or to use a Biblical reference, all milk (pablum) no meat.

Honestly if the Observer wanted to remain relevant as an educational and community connection piece, they would’ve been better off to follow the Presbyterians example with Connections, and then with the savings provide grants to local independent news. Even better, cultivate relationships with local news or news magazines or progressive magazines like Briar Patch or New Internationalist to direct fund their way for an excellent subscription rate for churches, and on those subscriptions these magazines distribute the newspaper of church news.

For what I see now, is a broad, strong, progressive media voice has silenced itself, and left a broadview, but no depth of critical thinking, discourse, or discipleship.

 


I have always enjoyed reading the practical current events spiritual magazines/newspapers published in Canada. Most are denominationally specific. Among my top 3 were: United Church Observer, Anglican Sower and Presbyterian Record. The last two I also had the privilege to write for and share thoughts, unfortunately they are also no longer publishing (the fact they carried my works has nothing to do with the ceasing of publication I believe). One can also trace in my spiritual journey, denominations or religious traditions have not been high, I have drank and do drink from the many wells the one river feeds, yet it is the one river that I thirst for.

As I wrote a few days ago after a cascade of flashbacks triggered by a denominational prayer cycle (Read post here) it is unique that the latest issue of the United Church Observer in their Question Box column, Spiritual Solidarity, touched upon clerical unionization.

                “Clergy conflict reflect the ongoing turmoil and anxiety within the wider United Church.”

-Christopher White

Workplace and community conflicts are part of existing together. They are to be expected, what is not to be expected in civilized society is such harassment, haranguing and trauma that individuals leave their employment, or wind up with deep rooted scars. This article triggered flashbacks, part of the work of trying to rise above my flashbacks is acknowledging the pain, but also acknowledging the good I have seen and been apart of.

Obviously, the article is centred on the organic transformation within the United Church on this issue, but I can attest it crosses Christianities tradition and denominational lines. Following is a few thoughts on the good and bad I have been apart of.

“I also believe that more and more…is moving from primarily seeing ministry as a covenanted relationship to seeing it as a contractual one.”

-Christopher White

  1. The small congregation that hired me as a youth leader leaving my first experience, and then a minister. Both with contradicting missions. The congregation responding to the pain their abuse had caused catastrophe with previous ministries, allowing those with the money to run rampant. Online abuse existed before social media it was done via cc and bcc on e-mail as my character and personhood were attacked by those in the church that did not like their children/youth thinking. The harassment also continued through the office of clergy towards me, and some youth with mental health concerns. Meetings were held; then it went up to the Presbytery level to meet with the congregation and even though these meetings concerned me I was not allowed to attend. Eventually they beat you down, and I chose to surrender my ministry—yes the majority wanted to bring me on as minister, but even with mechanisms to sanction the vocal minority bullies—they refused. How did the organization reward this community? With more money, bigger space…message sent to those targeted—you do not matter.
  2. Being a Lay Professional Leader in a congregation doing things such as contemplative worship services, pulpit fill in; leading a bible study. Yet the wealthy in the aging congregation got their tempest in a tea pot over kids at play, noise, and the online attack campaign begun. Unwillingness again to call out a spade as a spade from those higher due to—yup you guessed it—money at play as donors.
  3. Stalked on and harassed via social media by a congregation and their pastor—why? As a family, we attempted to advertise our home bible study and potluck on the church Facebook page. My wife encouraged to distance herself from me and my unChrist-like influence. When she refused, and we chose to leave as a family those that said they were our “friends” shunned us like leaving a cult.
  4. My son’s joyful noise at a Santa Clause service being called out in vehement anger by the minister and called to leave service. Shunned by the supposedly “inclusive” spiritual home. In the moment those who preached standing up for injustice became the bystanders while the bully postured and the bullied was left believing he was on Santa’s naughty list.
  5. In Bible College having a professor point blank tell the class when I answered in favour of inclusion “that is why your church must die”…and being taunted in the halls as the “fag church member” still standing strong and up as best I could, leaving the learning environment to be battered in my “church homes” as I tried to build ministries.
  6. Para-church directors head hunting to fire me for my political and/or theological beliefs not aligning with their personal understanding.
  7. Being the family scape goated by an ill-equipped children’s educational ministry, because we had the “special needs kid” and not looking seriously at the bullying issue by the children of the long term generational members, and having the “r word” used to describe my son.
  8. Hearing during service a priest being called out on the rug because he took a stand for inclusion of God’s children, and love for those who are differently abled.

That is the darkness. Some can see through that a need for the mediating voice, but a union is not just there for the darkness, they are there to create a support network for successes. A place where the story can be shared for what has transformed, what has been overcome, and can create a relationship where clergy can easily move between denominations.

  1. I have been apart of wonderful churches that have had no actual building. Where ministries and retreats for youth were sponsored by church family members (with or without kids) in their own homes.
  2. I have been there when seniors have continued to answer the call to serve our children as they closed in on 100 years old, as we created “Elders Time” where a big comfy chair was created and the Elder could share the story, and then have the youth be their hands and legs for the activity.
  3. I have seen the passion of inclusion, where walls were broken down and churches laughed off the “tradition” of church youth/community youth time tables to have open youth group for all where spiritual formation was encouraged, and critical thought.
  4. I have seen youth and young families forego the “contemporary” service to be apart of the old liturgical service because it is where the seniors were, and allowed those without grandparents to find that role in their life in church.
  5. I have broken bread, shared meals, lifted many families and friends within my own home around simple things as movie discussion nights, bible studies…where life was done for those shunned by churches they did not fit the mold for due to life circumstance, simple acts of kindness and love allowed the journey to continue… and yes, the noise of children is apart of that.
  6. A Children’s Ministry coordinator coming and speaking directly to my son about coming and being part of the group, not asking us, asking him and listening close for his body language and spastic voice if he wanted to come.
  7. Having a priest during High Mass while blessing the host pause, as my son cheers loudly, and state to the congregation overflowing, “May we all have that excitement to be one with Jesus!”
  8. A minister that contacts my son about if he wants to be in the Christmas pageant, and then the congregation learns about inclusionary communication tools.
  9. Simple things, like a free half day Vacation Bible School that I was blessed to be apart of growing up, and then my teacher asking if my daughter would attend as they are re-launching (and yes, this past summer she learned some French!).
  10. Offering scholarships for VBS’s that have a cost so no child is turned away.
  11. Celebrating the diversity in our unity as spiritual beings from who we are to where we are from…whether it is being Affirming or Dancing our Offering to the Altar to everything in between and not even dreamed of yet.
  12. A Priest taking the flack for replacing offering over two weeks of masses to ensure the food cupboard is overflowing with blessing.
  13. A nun that gathers toys to deliver with food hampers to families in need, and when families without homes sleep in the church ensure that even the volunteers have what they need.
  14. A priest that is troubled by persons with mobility issues not being able to get to the dining hall with dignity for church meals, installs and elevator.
  15. A priest that volunteers with homeless families and realizes they do not have the opportunity to shower in the parish before going out for their day. Installs showers, and announces offering from that weekend needs to be generous to pay for it.

For every horror story there is good stories, even great ones. Yet we cannot say the good outweighs the bad. We cannot say “this is church” to allow for the bullying. People are essentially good. We need to be generous in our ability to do what we can to build a better world, one simple act of kindness at a time.

A union for church employees on the surface may be something to be scoffed at, but it creates a mediating body, removes the ability of congregations or higher church authorities to cover up for PR reasons. It creates an environment with standardized codes of care and conduct that cannot be shouted down due to the “wealthy donor” paradigm. It levels the playing field, much like the gospels pointed to.

This is my story, my experience, my opinion. My act of reconciliation as the story stands, the truth told…now it is time to move forward…into a new day, and a hopeful healthier relationship in the congregation we have settled in.


Vigil Saturday (yes I know I left structured Christianity, but the Liturgical rhythm still speaks to me) was opened with exploring the idea of an Atheist in the pulpit of a Christian (United Church of Canada) pulpit. Gretta Vosper is a protege of John Shelby Spong and she was involved in the launching of the Canadian Centre of Progressive Christianity.

Vosper has written two decent works for spiritual formation: With or Without God and Amen. She has spent her whole life being shaped within the United Church, and yes discerned to ministry, and trained to look at the world through different lens, challenging understandings of God & scripture, and yes social justice issues.

Now comes the challenge for Rev. Vosper during her spiritual path has come to the place of being an Atheist. Which as one can imagine leads the UCC to a place of wanting her removed from ordination.

Now the defense of belonging arises. And the United Church doesn’t exactly function like the Roman Catholic church where a defrocking can happen unilaterally. It is a church of shared ecclesiastic heritages of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational theologies and politics that came together in a kitchen sink document of Union in 1925.  Which has structures above the local congregation, but the local congregation holds quite a bit of power in choosing their direction and purpose.

So the church proper can try to remove her as no longer holding to the beliefs and creeds of the UCC.  So it looks cut and dry, although several years ago, there was an article in the United Church Observer I believe that spoke of Eastern United Church working with, possibly merging with Canadian Unitarian congregations. So the UCC could removed this minister, but just as easily the congregation could choose to leave with her as well.

But why bother with all this? Out of my own geekdom because it was the UCC I looked at ordination with. It speaks Anthropologically to the idea of “Tribe” that collection where we belong, and journey through life with as we grow and transform. We may look different as we age, our view points change, but our roles in society transform along with us, so if the spiritual voice is transforming, and the congregation is journeying with them, then are they not resonating with the path the Creator has laid out?

Why is this important? Because of movements like this that are being organically networked due to this notion of community and home: Looking for a Church like West Hill?

So here is the question that resonates as we await New Life and a New Beginning… what is community? What is church? What is home? and…

How do you know when you belong?