Administrative Background: The United Church of Canada was the union of 3 separate large churches: The Methodist Church of Canada, The Congregational Union Of Canada, and most (70%) of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, plus the small General Council of Union Churches. The Basis of Union was brought into reality by an Act of the Canadian government. As such, fundamental structural changes have to be voted on by The United Church as a whole and then the Canadian government needs to modify the Basis of Union Act of 1925. This can only be done by the creation of remits, which the majority of presbyteries must approve. The driving force behind all of these proposals is to see the Church as a whole live within its own financial means.
The intent is for all of these Remits to be accepted. However, some are written so as to be accepted with or without the other Remits.
Remit 1: the Three Council Model
This remit aims to reduce administrative delays and overhead by reducing the layers of the church’s hierarchy from 4 to 3: Local, Regional and National.
The local level is to be called the Community of Faith. It is intended to include present congregations, pastoral charges, outreach ministries, house churches, chaplaincies, faith-based communal living and online communities. Communities of faith at this level will be responsible for mission work within their areas, engaging with others in an intercultural manner, take responsibility for local governance and administration, nurturing the spiritual life of its members, initiating and ending the placement of ministers and staff in association with the regional level, and contributing to the regional and national levels of the Church. Each is expected to live within the policies set out nationally for the Church as a whole and can have its control taken over by the regional level in the event of extraordinary circumstances.
Canada is to be split into between 12 and 15 regions, with each called a Regional Council. The Regional Council will comprise all of the ministry personnel and lay members within that region. This level will be tasked with covenanting (establishing new communities of faith and maintaining the life and mission of existing communities of faith), providing support, advice and services to communities in matters of human relations, property, archiving, educational and leadership training of ministers and lay persons, assisting with mission work, ensuring that its communities of faith stay within the policies and polity of the United Church. It will coordinate mission work with those outside the Church. It is to apply a regional strategy to policy and finances within its region. It will set an annual budget and will determine denominational assessments. It will set regional priorities for mission and ministry work. It will meet at least once every year. It will be in charge of recruiting and preparing ministers and lay ministers, and will work with communities of faith in pastoral relations and in oversight of ministry personnel. It will elect members to serve at the national level. It is to ensure that its region adheres to national policies. Its staffing numbers will be based on assessments and any other regional income, plus any grants that might come in from the national Mission and Service Fund.
The national level will be called the Denominational Council. It is the decision-making body for the Church. It will be comprised of the Moderator, a General Secretary, an officer from each Regional Council, and those elected to it by Regional Councils. It will coordinate mission work and policies nationally. It will set national policies, be the spokesperson for the Church, and deal with policy input from Regional Councils. It will meet every 3 years, and set a 3-year budget framework for the Church. It will determine the assessment formula for the Communities of Faith. It will have a group called the Executive of the Denominational Council, with between 12 and 18 members; it makes the actual decisions for the Denominational Council. It will deal with the business of the Denominational Council during the 3 years between meetings. It will have centralized technical services for IT, HR, communications, payroll, administration, and the pension plan.
The proposal also envisions Clusters, which is foreseen to be local clusters of communities of faith with the regions, and Networks, which would be more temporary, and for specific issues.
Remit 2: the Elimination of Transfer and Settlement
Presently, new ministers are transferred or settled into pastoral charges that need a new minister. Resistance to this comes from those who don’t want to – or are unable – to settle in certain areas of the country. The claim is that almost no one has been settled this way recently.
The question is whether or not we agree to eliminate this as a mandated way of deploying a minister to some parts of the country.
Remit 3: the Office of Vocation
This is proposed to be in charge of settings standards for the training and accreditation of ministry personnel, and to determine if a person ought to be a minister. It will keep track of all accredited ministers and interim ministers, and maintain a list of those who are no longer ministers (whether because of retirement or for disciplinary reasons). It will be in charge of all discipline matters of ministers. It will coordinate the admission of ministers (as required) from other denominations, and will deal with the re-admitting of ministers. It will consist of a blend of ordained ministers, diaconal ministers, lay ministers and lay people.
Basically, what this proposal entails is the centralizing and standardizing of the business of governing ministry personnel, instead of having it done regionally by each conference individually. The aim is for ministry to be more uniform across the country, at a lower cost.
Remit 4: Funding a New Model
The thought behind this remit is stark: that the Church only spends the revenues that it has received. One point that came out in the discussion session about this remit that I and some others were not aware of is that a portion of the money donated for Mission and Service (M&S) was going to fund the head office in Toronto. Yes, you can define the work that Toronto does as service, and you can define it as mission, but I suspect that most people picture what the fund is to be used for is something different than that. They suggest that M&S should only be funded by donations from Offerings, and all funds raised that way should only go to M&S. All funding of other levels (as in Regional and National) should be done by assessing communities of faith and pastoral charges. This remit encourages the sharing of all resources and assessments equitably across the whole church. It also says to permit Conferences, Presbyteries and Regional Councils to use additional resources for regional purposes. The wording of this suggests that this is the way forward, whether or not Remit 1 is accepted.
The question that everyone will no doubt ask is “How Much Will This Cost?” The present assessment from Ottawa Presbytery is 3.397% of a church’s Net Income. The proposed assessment in Remit 4 is 4.5%. Since neither the present system or the proposed system has a crystal ball to predict in advance what a church will acquire in income over a year, both base their assessments on 2 years prior to the present – 2015 in the case of 2017. So 2015’s Net Income was $149,983.00. The present assessment will thus be $5,095.00, and the Remit 4 assessment will be $6,749.00. Thanks to Verne Bruce for the ‘number crunching’ to arrive at these figures. If congregations find this to be too steep an increase in assessment, there is the offer of a phase-in of a couple of years; at the end of the phase-in, the assessment will be 4.5%.
This is a harsh financial reality: the United Church as an organization cannot live beyond its means. What is being proposed is the means by which the United Church as an organization ensures that it has the funding to continue to exist as an organization. I have no doubt that most every congregation will balk to some degree at the increase in assessment. The choice that every church has to make is this, either by action or inaction: do we contribute to the continued existence of the United Church, or do we contribute to its collapse.
Remit 6: One Order of Ministry
This remit proposes that there be a single Order of Ministry, called “ordained ministry” that will replace the present structure of ministry. Presently, there is one category for ordained minsters (word, sacrament and pastoral care) and diaconal ministers (education, service and pastoral care), and a separate category for lay ministers. This proposal that all ministers be ordained after the required education stream, and that within this education there be separate, but equal, educational streams available to all. It proposes that all existing diaconal ministers be classed as ordained ministers, and that existing lay ministers “currently serving in presbytery-recognized or presbytery-accountable ministries” be classed as ordained ministers.
In other words, it proposes that there be one education stream, turning out what we currently call lay ministers, diaconal ministers and ordained ministers, and would call them all “ordained ministers”. It adds “with provision for the continued identity of the diakonia within the ordained ministry”, which I take it to mean there will be a form of specialization within this structure, even though all are to be considered ordained.