Moving Church House?

A black rubber sandal sits on a frozen lake.
Walking on Thin Ice (Richard Bott CC-by-nc-sa)
There’s a bit of a debate going on in UCCan circles at the moment. The lease on the space that houses our General Council (think ‘national’) Offices is coming to its end in a couple of years. The debate? Should our General Council offices (“The Ship”, “Church House”, “GCHQ”, “3250”, etc. etc. etc.) stay in the Greater Toronto Area, or should they move.

For the past 17 years they’ve been located in Etobicoke. Before that, they were at was 85 St. Clare Ave. – the heart of downtown Toronto. The question is, what’s going to happen next? Where will General Council Offices be?

The denomination’s magazine, The Observer, wrote an article about the location discussions at the General Council Executive meeting. A group from Winnipeg has designed a beautiful website, to help showcase their community as a possible place for the offices to be.

As I listen to the commentary, I hear things like, “Decentralize!” and “Why do we need General Council anyway?” From my perspective, if we are going to be a national church then we are going to need national organization of some size – large or small. Organization means people and people need space in which to do their work.

I recognize that there are many different variables that people are going to want to consider: our desire to keep/change current staff, many of whom would not choose to move away from the GTA; our rural/urban divide; stewardship of finances and other resources; stewardship of relationship; questions about ‘image’ and ’empire’; geography and distance; relationship with other denominations and communities; wondering about the effect of architecture on mindset – and more that I’ve not thought about, I’m sure.

There are great reasons for moving the General Council offices – to Winnipeg or elsewhere. There are great reasons for keeping the General Council offices in the GTA. I’m not sure that a “balance of pros and cons” is going to help us make the decision. In fact, I think I can be even stronger by saying that I don’t believe that balancing pros and cons will help us make this decision.

Whatever the decision, there are going to be people who believe that the wrong one was made.
Whatever the decision, there are going to be people hurt by it and there are going to be people helped by it.
Whatever the decision, there will be a level of chaos, both for us as individuals and us corporately.

Recognizing that, how do we go about making a right decision – one that is just and loving and lives out Christ’s call? By making sure that the process is just and loving and lives out Christ’s call.

So – for me – that means speaking truthfully about what I’m seeing and hoping for, about the possibilities of being in Winnipeg, or Ottawa or Waterloo or Toronto. It means listening to my words and trying to hear them through the ears of someone who holds a different perspective, before I hit the enter key or open my mouth. It means being ready to accept whatever decision the people we have entrusted to make the decision make – even if it’s not the one I would have gone with.

And it means trusting that God works through all of us.

I wonder how we’ll do with this one?

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A dark sky with slivered water underneath.
Dark Sunset (Richard Bott CC-by/nc/sa 2.0)
I hate to say this, but in many ways I’m glad I’m not responsible for worship leadership this coming Sunday morning. I’ve been watching colleagues – both in The United Church of Canada and in a variety of other denominations – struggle with what to do on this 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers and on the Pentagon in the United States, and the deaths that arose from those attacks.

I’m glad I’m not leading worship, because I know that there are people who want to commemorate that day.

I struggle because, as terrible as it was, and as horrendous the deaths of all those children, women and men and the grief that their families and friends live is… it is one drop in the ocean of death caused by humankind’s ability to hate those who are Other.

In my lifetime (1968 to now):
Between 1.5 and 3 million people were killed in the Cambodian Genocide.
Between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed in the Rwandan Genocide.
Between 176,000 and 400,000 people were killed in the Darfur conflict.
Massacres of Hutus by Tutsis and Tutsis by Hutus (approximately 150,000) in Burundi.
Between 26,000 and 3 million people in East Pakistan/Bangladesh.
Between 20,000 and 80,000 people in Equatorial Guinea.
Between 18,000 and 183,000 people in East Timor.
Between 9,000 and 30,000 people in Argentina.
Between 7,500 and 8,000 people in Srebrenica.
Between 2,000 and 70,000 people of the Falun Gong in China.

And how about the actual, declared wars, during my lifetime:
Second Congo War – between 3.8 and 5.4 million people killed.
Vietnam War – between 2.6 and 6.0 million people killed.
Second Sudanese Civil War – between 1 and 2 million people killed.
Iran-Iraq War – between 500,000 and 2 million people killed.

And let’s not forget…
the Iraq War – between 98,000 and 654,000 people killed;
the War in Afghanistan – approximately 25,000 people killed.

And, yeah, I know that getting numbers from Wikipedia doesn’t always work, but if the numbers are even one-tenth of what they show, they would boggle the mind.

This, of course, doesn’t include deaths caused by famine, by economic policies, by climate change.

Or by crime.

Will I remember take a moment a lift up a prayer for the children, the men and the women who died on 9/11/2001? Of course, I will.

But I’ll do it in it’s context of all death that is caused by our human inability to live with, to love, and to lift up our neighbour.

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Roads not travelled.

A fog-enshrouded, snow dappled pathway beside a series of leafless trees - somewhat spooky.
Take this path? (Richard Bott CC-by/nc/sa 2.0)
I’m sure all of us do it. You know, think about the roads and paths we didn’t take. Look back over our lives and wonder, “What if I had…?”

In some ways, it’s a fool’s game. What is, is. We can’t go back. There aren’t any “do overs.” Just the ever-present now. And yet…

Although there have been good and bad times in my life, times I would love to revisit (more as a tourist than a player), I really don’t think I’d want to lose who I am, and who is in my life now. My partner. Our daughter. Being in BC. All of the experiences of being a minister in The United Church of Canada, here, in St. Marys, in Iroquois Falls, in Kirkland Lake. The relationships and friendships.

Even more than revisiting some of those times, what I would truly love is the chance to meet the ‘me’s who would have grown out of other decisions. The Richards who chose to walk other roads.

I wish I could have the chance to listen to what they learned and to see how this choice made that difference.

In the last little while, I’ve been reconnecting with people from different times in my life. My highschool daze, my university years, my time as a newly forming minister. In the process of feeling out the possibilities of friendship again, I’ve found myself in conversations that call for remembrance and repentance, and – perhaps – for reconciliation.

Even if these moments of reconnection do not grow into renewed friendship, the ability to repent – and the ability to release both my own Self and the Other – is well worth looking back on the path I’ve taken.

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