Yr B ~ Pentecost 3 ~ UCCan 93rd Anniversary ~ 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
It all began when formal talks started between the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in 1902 – at the turn of a new century. It was a time of big dreams and endless possibilities. Canada as a country was only 35 years old – Oldsmobile pioneered the first assembly line for automobiles – the Wright brothers made their first airplane test flights.
The 20th century was filled with promise. Back then they bragged that it would be the “Christian Century”.
The United Church of Canada was formed in the cradle of what was called the Social Gospel movement which “applies Christian principles to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, poor schools, and the danger of war” [wiki]. It was a time when the dream was to establish a truly national church.
Several years ago the Very Rev. Peter Short – our Moderator at the time – wrote a letter to the first Moderator – the late Very Rev. George Pidgeon. It was a creative way to offer reflections and pose questions about the state of the union today compared to then. I’d like to read you edited portions of that letter as a way of inviting you into reflecting on our church and our faith.
“Dear George, I serve The United Church of Canada as the 38th of its moderators. You were the first. How odd that you were elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and a week later you were elected moderator of The United Church of Canada. Here in the Maritimes we would say that was some week.
“This is a precarious time for the church we love – not bereft of hope, but a time of great diminishment and a certain desolation… We are (now 93) years old and something in us is exhausted. …I believe you would want to know how things are with us now, and I hope you will understand.
“Sometimes I wonder what was going through your mind in (Toronto’s) Mutual Street Arena that day at the inaugural service. …Was it you who chose the processional hymn, ‘The Church’s One Foundation’? Did your spine tingle when you came to the line that says, “Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed?”
I wonder what vision glorious your heart was seeing as you sang with the great crowd.
“…My grandmother was in her 20s when her congregation joined the new United Church. All her life she used to say, “We were Methodist, you know.” My father, born in 1924, grew up in a congregation that was learning how to become a United Church. I was born the month after you retired. I have read accounts of the struggle for church union — how it was so hopeful in one place, so bitter in another. I have seen the scars, but I have no direct memory of it. My children don’t really care much about that struggle. The wounds have healed too well.
“After all these years we still encounter the old fault line though, the one between the socialists and the moralists (as they were called in your time).
Even today, some of us understand evangelism as calling people to participate in building God’s reign of social justice on earth.
Some of us (me!), on the other hand, understand evangelism as calling people to new birth in faith, thus building a better society one human life at a time.
You will recognize that long-standing division. It hasn’t changed much, but for the most part we don’t use the word evangelism at all any more. There’s something about it that embarrasses us.
“I guess I am still wanting to know about the vision glorious. read on