A response to “The Collapse of the Liberal Church”

Here’s the letter I wrote to the Globe and Mail at the beginning of the week. Didn’t make it in – I think I was too wordy. *grin*

As a minister serving in The United Church of Canada, I found Ms. Wente’s, “The Collapse of the Liberal Church” to be both frustrating and enlightening. Enlightening because it was a snapshot of how some outside the denomination see us. Frustrating because it really didn’t say more than many of us of various theological worldviews within the denomination have been saying for some time. Frustrating, too, because many of us believe that the United Church and other liberal denominations have something vital to offer to the Christian conversation and the world at large: a belief that Jesus Christ called his followers to look at everything through the lens of God’s love, and to live that love in every action and every moment.

Much of what we do is relevant only to ourselves. Sometimes, we make decisions that make no sense. But, sometimes, in our congregations and our General Councils, we take steps that resonate in the wider community. Who knows which of these the decision the upcoming General Council makes on the conflict between the people of Palestine and Israel will be? Perhaps in this, in another decision, or in the life of one of our congregations, someone will find their faith and hope in God’s love renewed.

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My Moderator Nomination Biography, Vision Statement and Thoughts

The Rev. Dr. Richard Bott


Richard Bott is passionate and confident about the future of The United Church of Canada. An enthusiastic user of social media, posting thought-provoking and often humorous observations about faith, church and family life, he is a keen liturgist who believes firmly that a good resource is meant to be shared. He even founded a website (ucc-resources.ca) for that purpose. He is committed to exploring good, thoughtful and transformative theology, whether it is orthodox, unorthodox… or other.

Born in Marathon, Ontario, Richard was raised in The United Church of Canada. His earliest memory of St. John’s United Church is of racing his brother, on their bellies, under the pews (his brother probably won). He preached his first sermon at 12 years old, served on the Church Board at 14 and became a presbyter soon after. Supported by his parents, he explored the other faith communities in Marathon, starting a life-long love of ecumenism and interfaith conversation.

Richard studied Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa/l’Université d’Ottawa (B.SS), Divinity at Queen’s Theological College (M.Div), and issues around developing structured supportive and caring relationships between clergy at Ashland Theological College (D.Min). A lifelong learner, he continues study in the areas of Adult Education, Leadership and Management.

While completing his theological education he served with Front Road United Church in Belleville, Ontario, and did his internship at Trinity United in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Following his ordination by the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario in 1994, he was settled to Trinity United in Iroquois Falls, Ontario. In 1998, he moved to St. Marys United in St. Marys, Ontario and in 2006 to St. Andrew’s Haney United in Maple Ridge, BC.

Richard has served in almost every possible capacity in Presbytery, including Chair of Pastoral Relations in all the presbyteries where he had shared in ministry since ordination. He has worked on a variety of Conference committees and served as President of London Conference. With General Council, he was a member of the UCCan/Roman Catholic Church dialogue, a writer and presenter with the Emerging Spirit team, and is one of the many consultants supporting the ministry of The Edge network. (An overwhelmingly complete curriculum vitae can be found at richardbott.com.)

In addition, Richard sings enthusiastically and on key. He speaks English fluently and French better than he thinks. What he is really fluent in, however, is figuring out ways of helping the structure of the church live out the ministry to which it is called. He enjoys exploring The Manual, seeing in it a reflection of the covenant we have made with one another to work together in the faith we share.

Richard tries to be a faithful child of God and disciple of Christ in his life. He is grateful that The United Church of Canada has been a welcoming place for him to use his gifts and skills to help others and the church he loves. He feels called to let his name stand for Moderator and celebrates the wider church’s willingness to discern whether he is, in fact, called to the role. (His 9-year-old daughter, Rowan, thinks he is crazy to be doing this, but is willing to share her dad with the church.)

Vision Statement

Not long ago, a colleague looked at me with some despair and no little frustration, saying, “We’re screwed.” I understand the feeling; I just don’t believe it’s true. I’m not being Pollyanna. I believe that The United Church of Canada has a lot going for it, not the least of which are people across Canada who are living their lives out of a deep sense of faith and a deep connection to this United Church. Working with both rural and urban congregations, I regularly see the energy and commitment that is poured into this ministry by clergy and lay-folk alike.

Here comes the “but.”

I’m not at all sure that many of our congregations or the denomination as a whole would be able to say why we pour all this energy in. I don’t think we could articulate how our actions and our beliefs work together. I’m not sure we could easily name what we believe.

About God.
About Christ.
About ourselves.

For me, the purpose of church is deceptively simple: to help people enter into and deepen their relationship with God (and, if we’re a Christian church) through Christ. How we state that – and how we live it – is going to differ from community to community, congregation to congregation, ministry to ministry. But I’d like to suggest that is why we exist.

For a long time we’ve been quintessentially Canadian, defining ourselves by what we aren’t, rather than by what we are. It’s time we take a look at what our actions and our words say about who we are, individually and corporately. It’s time for us to be comfortable, when invitation arises, to share who we are as God’s people in Christ’s love through the life of The United Church of Canada.

We. Are. United. Alleluia!

We have a unique voice and a unique way of living as people of God and Christ-followers in this weird and wonderful world! Throughout our story, the people of The United Church of Canada have shown that they are prepared to look at everything – our traditions, our history, our beliefs, our actions, our polity, even scripture itself – through Jesus’ “lens of love”. His invitation to love God, neighbour and self with all that we are and all that we have, along with his command that we love one another as he has loved us, has led us into difficult and amazing places. Often we have accepted his challenge and found ourselves in places of doing all we can to mend creation with justice, hope and peace. Thank God!

It’s time for us to celebrate who we are as “God’s People United.” To do that, we need to set aside time to understand our individual and communal faith stories. We need also to explore where those stories fit with Christ’s story. To be able to invite others into whatever it is we are, we have to have some idea of what it is we’re inviting them into. To be able to learn from others about their faith and ways of interacting with the world, we need to have an understanding of our own.

No matter what part of the theological tightrope we’re dancing on in this big tent, who we are would benefit from building in intentional time with God every day. What would it mean for us if we worked together to be:
Uplifted and challenged in daily conversation with God;
Nurtured by regularly gathering to worship;
Inspired through daily conversation with scripture;
Transformed through service to God’s creation (human and other!);
Engaging ourselves and others in relationships based on faith and exploration;
Devoting our resources to God’s mission.

Our task is not to save our denomination.
Our task is not to save our structure.
Our task is not to save our buildings.

Our task is to continue to be God’s faith-filled people in a changing world.

I believe that the people of The United Church of Canada – its congregations, special ministries, partnerships, conversations, working groups, committees, Presbyteries/Consistoires, Regions/Conferences, and General Council – have a vital part to play in what is to come.

Why me??

When I look at all the nominees, I know that they are people who I respect greatly and would support as Moderator. So, why me?

I love who we have been and who we are right now, and am truly excited about what we could become. I understand myself to be a leader in the church. I’m someone called to find the words to describe where it seems God is pulling us, then to build conversation and collaboration to test that vision, refine it, and then help us to live it.

Like most of us in the church, I don’t agree with everyone all the time – either theologically or practically. In the past, I’ve used my skills as a facilitator, mediator, and dreamer to listen and help different groups in the church live out their ministry. If I were to be called to the role of Moderator, I would use all of those gifts and experiences to help us in the challenging and exciting conversations – and to take faithful action, no matter the difficulty.

What would I hope to do as Moderator? I’d hope to support our ministers and lay people with the resources and the passion they need to articulate their faith in God through Christ’s love, so that we might actively and intentionally live into, invite into and share into God’s abundance.

I believe we are God’s People United – children of a loving God and disciples of Christ. Whether or not I am chosen by the church to minister in the role of Moderator, I will continue helping the church to celebrate that reality.

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From dust…

Fireworks in the night sky.
“From dust you come and to dust you shall return.”

It’s usually said solemnly, as a cross of ash is placed on someone’s brow. The dusty ash often comes from the palm fronds of the previous year’s commemoration of the Palms and Passion.

But I wonder…
what if the ash came from somewhere else?

What if the ash came from a display of fireworks, bright and alive in a crisp, dark February night?

What if we gathered it together, strewn by the wind, into a cup, and darkened our foreheads with it?

Lent may be a time of penitence, but penitence doesn’t always require solemnity. Turning around – repenting – is an action that takes energy and life. Sometimes it takes tears and laughter – both in bright bursts and in sustained glow.

What would it say to us if, as that ash were placed on our skin, we felt the presence of the Holy Spirit flashing in the night – if we could feel our faith bursting forth in response?

Would that change how we say, “From dust you come, to dust you shall return?”

Would that change our, “Amen?”

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We really don’t know how it is we are fed.

We often don’t know who baked the bread.
We often don’t know who milled the grain,
kept the cows healthy,
gathered the salt,
or planted the seed.

But we know


the Divine Presence is in
the planting and the growing,
the harvest and the mix.

God’s love, God’s will,
God’s very Be-ing
permeates that loaf…
even as it fills you
and me.

And, with the bread,
as the bread,
in the bread,
of the Bread,
we are blessed.

Saved or consumed.

Broken or whole.

An ‘alleluia’ of life.

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