Following in the steps of some Anglican national groups, on August 16th, the United Church of Canada (UCC) Canada’s second largest religious denomination has elected Rev. Gary Patterson to its top post. Patterson has been in a high-profile gay relationship for thirty years. You can read more, and see a video interview at BDBO.
The UCC was formed in 1925 through a merger of Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist churches; though each denomination also survived in some form with congregations that did not submit to the merger. My father once said, “When you try to merge three denominations, you end up with four,” and certainly that proved true here.
Although the phrase consisting of the last 75% of its name, “Church of Canada” isn’t heard too often, the vision was to create something that would form a national brand church in the same way Anglican churches are referred to in Britain as “Church of England.”
However, on the spectrum between conservative Evangelicalism and liberalism, the UCC has been progressing toward the latter. Some would argue that statement and say it’s more of a progression from orthodoxy toward universalism. A Wikipedia article notes the church’s inter-faith stance:
“The church believes that there are many paths to God. The United Church’s path is through Jesus Christ, but the church also recognizes that Christians’ understanding of this is limited by an incomplete comprehension of God; their belief is that the Holy Spirit of God is also at work through other non-Christian faiths.”
There are however some very evangelical congregations currently under the UCC umbrella. This raises the question as to whether or not they will wish to continue in the denomination or if this leadership vote constitutes a ‘last straw.’ In 2002, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) diocese of New Westminster created a rite for the blessing of same sex marriages. This resulted in a backlash both nationally and from two African countries who felt they couldn’t continue in an Anglican body that would permit that position.
As a result, there have been numerous breakaway congregations in the ACC – forming alternative denominations or just becoming independent — and some feel this trend could surface in the UCC over this choice of moderator. The problem in both cases is that the denomination claims title to land and buildings; groups that leave are left with nothing in terms of property or facilities.
But others note that land and buildings are all the denomination has. Certainly attendance is flagging, and many churches meet their bottom line each year only because of bequests from parishioners who have died. (The UCC congregation where this writer did pulpit supply occasionally over the past three years was staying afloat through rentals to two ethnic churches and the income from a Montessori school and daycare. Attendance averaged 25-30 adults with no children or teens present.)
There was a record field of 15 candidates for the UCC Moderator position and news reports did not mention the sexual orientations of other individuals the 350 delegates could have chosen.