Dan Benson is blogging on his experience as a United Church representative to the ACT Alliance General Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden. Read his other dispatches from the meeting.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the church was a key voice in civil society. We sometimes joke (albeit somewhat nostalgically) about the days when the moderator of the United Church of Canada had the ear of the Prime Minister. And, the PM would actually pick up the phone and listen! These days, however,  even if the PM took the call, the church's voice as a prominent, respected, and viable voice in civil discourse is decidedly one from the margins.  

So it was both delightful and inspiring to listen to Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, address the ACT Alliance General Assembly. I had half-expected a pat-on-the-head type of speech about the good work of ACT and its members; the sort of polite thing that dignitaries often offer at tedious but necessary flower shows and ribbon cuttings.  

Instead, Ms. Mohammed spoke boldly and clearly, and placed ACT and other faith-based organizations firmly in the centre of the public square as essential and effective players in civil society and as prophetic agents of change. "Your efforts have earned you the trust of the communities you serve, and you are often directly engaged with those who are left furthest behind," she noted.  Obviously, Ms. Mohammed had given this a lot of thought and had a deep respect for ACT and other faith-based organization. And, she values us as partners with the ability to work alongside the UN in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the UN plan "2030 Agenda."

Often, in churchland, it can seem that we are totally passé: nice people, doing nice things, not particularly effective or notable, and decidedly not mainstream. And, occasionally when we do find our voice and speak up, we're told to stick to our knitting and pray, and that "religion shouldn't mix with politics."

And then we get the acknowledgment, affirmation, and also the challenge from someone like Amina Mohammed and the UN, who sees us not just as nice, or even helpful, but a necessary voice in achieving (in our language) God's dream for creation. Time to speak up and be heard; the world is listening.  

Dan Benson is minister at St. Paul's United Church in Scarborough, ON and a United Church representative with partner ACT Alliance.