It’s an anniversary year for the United Church as we celebrate and reflect on numerous milestone events that have played a significant role in shaping the church that we know and love today. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview a variety people about these anniversaries (see below) for a story in the fall 2018 issue of Mandate.

Here are some highlights of the legacy left by various milestone moments, and why the work and decisions that came out of these anniversaries is still highly relevant today.

70 Years: The World Council of Churches

Imagine hearing the Lord’s Prayer in hundreds of languages and dialects. It’s “an unforgettable experience,” says former Moderator Marion Best, as she recalls taking part in worship with the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The United Church was one of the 147 founding members of the WCC. And today, it’s more important than ever to remember the ecumenical and collaborative spirit of the Council. “This is a time to look outward, take our intercultural work seriously, and recognize our Indigenous communities have worldwide relationships,” says Best.

50 Years: The Programme to Combat Racism

Participants at GC43, held in July 2018, heard deeply moving accounts of racism, discrimination, and exclusion in the United Church today. This is why the advocacy work that the WCC began 50 years ago with the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) is still so relevant today. The United Church played a key role in creating the program, and it remains a pillar on which new anti-racism initiatives are built.

50 Years: A New Creed

1968 was one of the most transformative and intense years in history. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, the world was rocked by passionate protests against the Vietnam War, and on Christmas Eve, three astronauts became the first humans to orbit the moon.

That same year, the General Council Executive (GCE) adopted the New Creed to speak to the “modern” or “contemporary” world, says John Young, Executive Minister of Theological Leadership at the General Council Office. He adds that those two words appeared frequently in discussions and drafts of the creed that preceded its final approval.

30 Years: The Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

Women play a prominent role in all levels of the United Church, and in other churches, today. But that was not always the case. The WCC declared the decade, which spanned 1988 to 1998, and its objective was to raise awareness of women’s issues and spark change in the church and society.

“It was part of the second wave of feminism in secular society,” says the Very. Rev. Lois Wilson, the first female Moderator of the United Church (1980–1982) and a former Canadian senator. 

30 Years: The Decision to Allow People of All Sexual Orientations to Become Full Members and Serve in the Order of Ministry

“The 1988 decision” (as the watershed moment is known) was controversial in the church. “The church was very divided on the decision,” says former Moderator Marion Best. She chaired the committee that wrote the “Member, Ministry, and Human Sexuality” report that advocated for equal treatment and was presented to the General Council 30 years ago.

It is important to mark the milestone of the “1988 decision,” but also remember “many in the church were [profoundly] hurt in the lead-up to, and the years following, that decision,” says former Moderator the Very Rev. Jordan Cantwell. “Hearing sincere words of apology and repentance [is] an important part of the healing journey.”

20 Years: The United Church’s Apology for Its Involvement in Residential Schools

Two decades ago, the Very Rev. Bill Phipps had a profound experience listening to stories from residential school survivors in Port Alberni, BC. “It was incredibly moving,” says the former Moderator.

Phipps was one of about eight people from the General Council at the gathering, which became a catalyst for the church’s apology for its involvement in residential schools. In 1998, in the role of Moderator, Phipps delivered that heartfelt apology. Today, the work of reconciliation is just as significant and alive as it was then. “The United Church is a critical player in this justice,” adds Phipps. “We have something to offer because we are still living out that 1998 apology.”

— Kathryn Dorrell is the Senior Editor in the Communications Unit at the General Council Office.

Read the full story on these six significant United Church anniversaries in the fall 2018 issue of Mandate magazine. Purchase a subscription today, or buy the issue online in late October.

Join us in-person or online for “Marking Moments” on September 24, 2018 at Emmanuel College Chapel in Toronto. The event features scholarly reflections, lively discussion, and Q&A sessions on four milestone anniversaries in the United Church, including the 50th anniversary of the union between the United Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. Register to attend in person or online.