Comprehensive Review Meeting No. 4

So, last week, another two days of Task Group meeting, working away at how to engage the challenges facing our church and eventually bring in recommendations for change. Lots of discussion, and a bunch of things I’d like to share.

First, we spent a morning with a change management consultant (who just happens to be a member of the United Church). He started off by reminding us that the only person who enjoys change is a wet baby—there will always be enormous resistance to change in every organization, and the church is no exception. (I think our founders built in huge barriers to our ever being able to change our structures—on the eighth day of church creation, once they had forged a liveable compromise among the original denominations, they established REMITS….)

The consultant suggested that we needed to do two things:

  • First: Establish the urgency for change—the threat or “burning platform” (a metaphor from a real-life incident in the North Sea oil industry—if you stay on the platform, which is in flames after an explosion, you fry; if you jump into the ocean, you have 20 minutes before you freeze; choose possible rescue instead of certain death). How to convince our church that we’ve now hit the point where we simply must change, that maintaining the status quo is certain death? We know we’re in trouble, but I’m not sure we’re convinced that we have to jump. We have had, in the past, a habit of always punting our concerns to the “next General Council.”
  • Second: Offer a compelling vision—we can do better, there is a different way of doing things—“See, it looks something like this….” We need to lead, offer a dream of far distant shores, and invite people to raise their sights. Then, and to a lesser degree, we need to manage, to point to practical management concerns, if only to indicate that we know what we’re talking about. Our essential task is the dream, the vision, but we’ve noticed that in past General Councils people appear to want all the details spelled out and nailed down. How much will be enough?

Another question: is it better to lead with the “threat” or bad news because, unless people really get the total urgency of it all, nothing will change? Or is it better to lead with vision and hope that people are inspired and see the possibilities? This sounds like a familiar conundrum (afflict the comfortable; comfort the afflicted).

I was reminded of a theory of change that I came across some years ago:

MC = FP x FV x FS

Motivation for Change = Felt Pain x Felt Vision x First Steps

If any one of the items on the right-hand side of the equation is missing—is zero—then the left-hand side, the motivation for change, is also zero. So…burning platform and vision and a plan. I know that I find it easier to jump when I have some idea of “where.”

We spent a whole morning on change management, translating business terminology like “stakeholders,” “buy-in,” and “added value” into our own language. We talked about the need for all kinds of consultation and involvement of the whole church—we are absolutely committed to listening, to building excitement and momentum, and to there being honest, clear options and choices.

Second, we spent another half-day talking about ministry leadership, recognizing that it is a key issue when we envision the church of the future. A friend talked to me recently about our being a “mixed economy” church, where future ministers will need to care for and nurture (“traditional” but changing) congregational forms of ministry and, at the same time (or will they be different leaders?), be able to explore and support new forms of community and fresh expressions of the faith. “Bi-vocational” was a word that was used.

We talked about ongoing explorations of “regional leadership,” whereby a team of two to four ministers might support a large number of congregations—10, 15, or 20—as a possible response to the many congregations that can afford only part-time ministry and the big dilemma this creates for ministers who are hoping for and needing full-time employment. (I’ve been told that in one presbytery in southern Ontario, 42 percent of the ministers are serving in part-time positions; I don’t think this is an unfamiliar situation.)

We talked about local ordination, how communities might call forth their own leadership—but if so, what kind of training and education would be needed and helpful? And how do we distinguish between ordered ministry and designated lay ministers (and we do need a new name for these folk) when we don’t hold a sacramental understanding of ministry? We talked about the need to develop individualized learning plans, recognizing that “second-career ministers” might not fit into our traditional three-year, post-B.A. seminary education, followed by an eight-month internship. But if not that…then what?

We talked about new ways of recruiting new ministers. Is that something that can happen only at the local level, or are there ways to assist at the national or Conference level? I was visiting Bay of Quinte Conference last week. They’re one of the three Conferences experimenting with the Candidacy Pathway, part of which includes shifting the discernment process to a weekend event organized by Conference rather than a year-long, six-meeting process in the congregation. They now have about 100 people expressing interest in various forms of ministry. Talk about good news! (If the link to the Candidacy Pathway report doesn’t work for you, go to and scroll down to “Reports 79-124.”)

We also spent a lot of time discussing how and when consultation will occur. When we are bit clearer about details, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, feel free to send in your thoughts and comments, and please keep the Task Group in your prayers.


32 thoughts on “Comprehensive Review Meeting No. 4

  1. Just a comment about the DLM program and I agree there should be a better name and more recognition of the work that they do. I am in the DLM program and I have just finished my first Learning Circle. It has taken three years for me to get from the application stage to the actual program because of break-downs in communication etc but I won’t get into that. I want to say that I am from a small rural charge in Newfoundland and Labrador and this charge has been without clergy for three years prior to me being appointed here in November. For three years two churches on this charge kept going with volunteer lay-readers, me being one of them. Rural churches will not survive if the church does not look at local ordination and recognition of DLMs as capable ministers.

      • I could not agree more with Alice Moores. I am in almost an identical situation in a small charge in Saskatchewan, where I had been leading services on a volunteer basis for three years. Like Alice, I am just into the DLM program. If I were not already a pensioner, not having to rely on the charge for my income, I do not know how this charge could continue. I might add that closure would simply mean that most of the faithful few would not be going down the road to another United Church. It’s a hard truth, but it is truth.

    • Thank you, Alice, for voicing what a lot of other DLM’s are saying. Having just finished my final learning circle I would like to say that it provides a wonderful opportunity for those going into a second career that perhaps do not have the financial means, or the interest, to go to University. We are all called into ministry, it is only the path we choose that is different.

    • Hi Alice. I appreciate your concern about the recognition of lay ministers, and the trials of small rural churches trying to obtain consistent ministry. I’m serving as a student minister in a small rural Ontario church through Atlantic School of Theology’s summer distance ed. program. This congregation had been juggling pulpit supply for about 2 years after their half-time ordained minister became seriously ill. The program allows me to work half time and study half time toward an MDiv and, God willing, ordination. As an aside, DLMs used to be called LPMs, Lay Pastoral Ministers. Neither makes for a great acronym. I much prefer Lay Appointed Ministers — LAMs. It’s accurate, easy to say and loaded with Christian imagery. PBWY.

  2. I much appreciate the Moderators descriptions and comments. Thank you.
    It feels like a real sharing of what is going on in the wider church.

    My vision is that the future church is led by loving words and actions.
    That might mean attention to things like communication skills for congregations, mediation skills, a lot more transparency, including in decisions as equals everyone whom the decisions effect (instead of a small group deciding for others- eg sending someone to South Downs for fixing), attention to bullying and not bullying…. probably more….

  3. You are so right that it’s easy for people to sink their teeth into the specifics, rather than start with the glorious vision. In that spirit (unfortunately) let me make a couple of fairly specific observations, based on the broad generalization that the people who created the United Church probably knew what they were doing and had reasons, which we should understand before we change their work too much.

    For example, the cumbersome procedure of remits, which you mention as though it were useless, is not something that the founders tossed in at the last minute. It was a central principle of governance for our Presbyterian forebears for several hundred years, designed to prevent change being foisted on the church by central “leadership” without broad local support. There may be other good ways to provide that safeguard, but we’d make better make sure.

    Similarly, the year-long congregational “discernment” process, while it’s a drain on people’s time and probably always comes to the predictable conclusion, is intended to make sure that future ministers are raised up by local churches, rather than picked by existing leadership as successors in their own image. Again, I’d say we need to bear that intention in mind even if the process has to change.

    As for the “regional leadership” you describe, it sounds very much like the structure the early Methodists had, by which clergy travelled on circuits of local congregations to preach and teach, but the primary leadership was local and lay. When a group of such clergy got together from time to time, it was called an annual conference. In the United Church context the nearer equivalent is the presbytery. I’m afraid our presbyteries largely have lost any sense of what they’re supposed to be for. I deeply hope that as your work moves along, you’ll be encouraging presbyteries to rediscover their purpose, rather than erasing them from the structure because they haven’t lived up to expectations lately.

    Possibly I’ve just proved what you say in your second paragraph, that I’m resistant to change. What I’m hoping, though, is that I’ve indicated some considerations for the right-hand side of your equation, things that will make it possible for United Church conservatives (in polity terms, not necessarily theologically) to come along with the change that is, we’ll all agree, going to be needed.

  4. Thanks Gary,
    Here is a quote from (?) Maxwell
    “To change you need to:
    hurt enough to need to,
    learn enough to want to,
    and feel safe enough to try.”

  5. Gary, I am very thankful that you are doing what you’re doing – seeking real answers and COMMUNICATING them! What a concept! Sorry for being sardonic, but as a former (and thus slightly reviled in some United Church circles) member of the business community prior to my second career in ministry, I have long been scandalized at the lack of support for congregations offered by General Council.
    Lack of support is meant as ‘not caring for/looking after the branches of the denominational vine.’
    Viable businesses know they must care for the branches or the whole entity will die.
    But relay such a concept to colleagues or church leaders they either ignore me or get defensive about our structure. Which of course is the nut of the problem, I acknowledge.
    And ironically the structure is why I joined the UCCAN late in life! I was attracted to our non-hierarchical, grass-roots driven polity and culture. (I was also attracted to our social justice oeuvre as well but that is another matter – social justice is not a major element of business although entities like VanCity do exist.)
    But even though I have studied Organizational Behaviour, I did not realize that the UCCAN structure, laudible as it may be, is also highly bureaucratic and in many ways leaderless.
    The Carver Model is an attempt to deal with this but as it is a hybrid of a bureacracy model fused with a business model it is, in my opinion, inefficient. Worse, it bypasses top-level accountability.
    This long commentary here is merely to convey why, to me, that you are at last doing, Gary, what I think the greater church should have been doing all along. It is true that it’s much easier to wage these criticisms from outside the national office but it has been very difficult for my perspective to be heard – and I would have been delighted to help in any way from afar in addressing the structural and cultural changes needed.
    I am a former strategic planning consultant and adult educator but these gifts and, some believe, my gender coupled with my advanced age (I went to school with your spouse) have not been respected and it may well be too late for me to make a useful contribution.
    Nonetheless, I am deeply heartened by your energetic efforts to discern the ‘Lay of the Land,’ Gary, and your talents of conveying these to us in an animated, articulate and clear way.
    Thank you for your work and for letting us know what is ‘out there’ and how we might bring about profound change.

  6. I disagree that change is the issue, so much as it is the direction of the change. The wet baby wants to be dry; put her in another wet diaper and she still wants something else. There are literally thousands of ideas about how we might change; how we might do things differently. You mention the Candidacy Pathways program but there are four different streams to ordination currently available to candidates – Candidacy Pathways; the model used by St. Andrew’s in Saskatoon; the traditional college/internship model; and the AST in-community/summer program. Each has different standards; each places different expectations on the students. If we should learn anything from Idle No More and the broken relationship between Canada and First Nations people is that one size does not fit all…neither will one size fit all the Conferences, Presbyteries, Congregations, ministry personnel and laity within the United Church. Will we continue to be a denomination united in it’s diversity; or will we become a denomination that looks to a vision from above?

  7. CHANGE, whether we like it or not is inevitable.
    Our Church is in a downsizing mode with Structures that are ready to collapse.
    Members are aging and youth are far fewer than 50 years ago.
    Glad you are looking for answers which don’t come easily.
    What was good 87 years ago may not work today. Glad we can be perceived to be Progressive, Positive and Inclusive.
    Thank you for your encouragement to ALL of the Members.
    The road ahead is long and won’t be easy. May we be given the Wisdom to go ahead and show Our Love & Joy to the World.
    Good News It Works!

  8. In every way possible, keep the terminology positive….vision/future/faith in the future/ including urgency and so on; threats and negativity will only backfire and drain.

    You have so many promising suggestion here already.

    How do we get around the fact that some people in the United Church still are “comfortable in the old paradigm” , (quoting Dr.Borg) e.g. original sin and the whole nine yards, yet surely, to go forward, we have to get beyond this language?

  9. I’m not a wet baby but I love change! As long as it is thoughtfully done, it can offer new possibilities and new energy. I know it can be hard for some and remember witnessing a congregational team anxious about ‘signing on the dotted line’ to start the process of building a retirement home on their extra property. They were excited about their vision but scared at the same time. Their wise advisor said to them, “Listen folks, you are going to have to swim in some deep water, but if you want to get to the other side, you have to let go of this one.”
    We know we need to go somewhere new and we don’t know what that new place will look like exactly but we won’t get there if we don’t try going in some new directions. And I believe there are many different ‘directions’ to try. Lets have fun discovering them!

  10. Hi Gary,
    As one who has had, at one time or another, roles in all 4 levels of the UCC structure, I have several times participated in change discussions and/or implementation. One such thing was the then-new General Council Permanent Committee on Programs for Mission and Ministry, starting in the early 2000s, where you & I first met. My point goes back further, though, to GC #33 in London Ont., where I was a lay commissioner from Alberta & Northwest Conference.

    As some of the other responders here have noted, your committment to communication re the current change initiative is to be commended, and lets us hope for a warmer reception for the recommendations which will eventually come forth.

    I wonder, however, if your blogs are reaching deeply enough into the near and distant crevasses of our far-flung denomination? Might those of us who are among the legion of commissioners be recruited or volunteer to test the work you people are doing on local congregations? Might we meet with some of them periodically to look at the denomination’s challenges, their perceptions of how these are experienced locally, their reaction to some of the work of your committee and their ideas about possible routes to a stronger future which they would actually embrace? I’d LOVE to do that from time to time, but I wouldn’t want to be a “loose cannon” risking treading on the toes and well-considered process plans of a General Council organ. However, the feed back you people might get, the intentional search for grass roots response and input into the committee’s work, might be a critical factor in the acceptability of the eventual report as a collegial document rather than another top-down edict from the hierarchy in Toronto.
    What do you think?

  11. Once again I am very grateful for all these responses… sharing insight and challenge and wisdom. Alice… you’re so right about the need to recognize, equip and honour lay ministry. Jim… absolutely, united in diversity, because one size does not fit all… if the CRTG is simply “imposing” a top down recommendation it will go no where (nor should it). Chris… you’re right, I shouldn’t have sounded so dismissive of Remits… they do have a good and long history, but I also realize that means change can take several years to institute… not that I’m wanting to be hasty. And indeed, whatever recommendations come forward need to have the approval or informed acceptance by grass roots. Don… hold onto your idea of consulting and sharing, just for a bit. We do have plans re consultation with congregations — but until a few more things fall into place, I can’t share the details. But I totally agree with you that information sharing AND feedback and input from congregations is absolutely necessary.
    Again, thank you… from me, and from the members of the CRTG, who read your comments and appreciate your input.

  12. EXCITING STUFF!! I wish I was thirty or forty years younger. Echoes of New Curriculum and its consultations/introduction, plus all the human relations stuff of the sixties and seventies. There may be a whle lot of wisdom locked up in the heads and hearts of some of us who did that stuff. Thanks!!

  13. I am enjoying the commentary and the communication from you, Gary. I am excited about the response with the Pathways to Candidacy programs in three Conferences. In conversation in church circles this week, we found ourselves also wondering out loud about the marvel of how many people (me included), to our knowledge, have sensed and responded to a prod (Holy Spirit!) to pursue Licensed Lay Worship Leadership training in the UC. There is a lot of “what if..” and “I wonder what…” pondering going on in the church. I will be excited to see how so many serious and motivated lay people, as LLWL, will be nurtured, received, and celebrated in the church. I wonder why so many…now…I wonder what?

  14. Change is coming, as always. One type of change is economic. We have no choice in that type of change. It will be forced on us bit by bit.Churches will close, lay ministry increase, more part time ministry etc. Our numbers will decrease. There is change which is up to us as an association. We can choose a type of change. I believe we should recognize that somewhere along the way we have become lost.Why is it that millions of canadians claim to be united church and yet fewer then 100,000 attend church on a regular sunday?I believe we have a spiritual problem. It is my hope that along with economic change we will choose to change in order to respond more fully to our calling as a people of God.

  15. Greetings.
    Perhaps it is our souls that require change. But not change from one thing to another, but change that is expansive, fluidic and utterly revealing. In order for anything to transform in our worldly existence, we must first acknowledge and accept that which we deeply and truly are; god-essence. All that separates us from our sacred selves must be cast off and given over to the wind. As individuals we must transcend into beingness and instead of struggling for what is true and right, simply let go of the lie-the ego form that keeps us away from our god-essence. Then and only then can we genuinely and with god–eyes transform the organization we call Church into its heart-song; that which can chorus the wind of our earth and gently invite sacred play from the deepest part of every being.

  16. Many thanks for the communications. That in itself is a positive change. On the wider change question, however, I may have missed something, but it seems to me that, no matter what we do, if those actions don’t bring into the organization substantial numbers of the two missing generations, we are just rearranging the deck chairs.

  17. I think there is no choice. We HAVE to lead with the vision. We have been running around shifting lifeboats for a generation because we have been leading with the crisis, the urgency for change.

    Tho only thing is I am not sure we have a vision to lead with (which is where we run into the zero in you mathematics). Some of our congregations and ministries have, or claim to have, a vision. Even some of our Presbyteries and Conferences do. [Just for the record “survival” is NOT a vision] But nationally? I don’t see that we do.

    And maybe the answer is that we don’t need a national vision. Back during David Giuliano’s moderatorship GCE reaffirmed that the basic unit of the United Church of Canada was the Pastoral Charge. Maybe we need to push our congregations to get a vision [remembering that survival is not a vision, but may be a goal in the short term] and then ask how the wider church can support those visions….

  18. Thanks Gary for this report. This amounts to good, even great – leadership.
    You have got my attention in this report, and my appreciation of some of the subjects and the ideas brought forth. Blessings!

  19. It is good to see people of high intellect, commitment to the church, and deep spirituality apply themselves to imagining the change for the future church in whatever form it might take.. But what has deeply worried me recently is that there are students emerging from excellent seminaries, ready for ordination, well trained; and,one imagines well prepared and tested for their “fitness,” Yet having to leave their first Pastoral Charge within their first year after ordination because, it seems the churches they try to serve are not yet prepared to honour the theological changes they bring into ministry. How do we serve them with justice and help the church itself move into 21st Century Theology?

  20. Gary your change management consultant gave your group excellent direction..
    Yes tell us why we have to jump, where the life rafts are and point us towards land and we will work hard to get there. Behaviour therapy is called for here.
    We need to evolve.
    The Remit format was for another time! Let it go!
    General Council should be 3 days; one for business. one for social justice, one for changes/themes. The old 8 day format does not work. Format does not tackle our big issues but instead encourages scrutinizing proposals, etc. Should we put a Moratorium on Proposals until we get our House in order?. A weekend would allow younger working people to attend. For the amount of human and monetary capital expended- there just is not the Return. Let the 8 days go!
    Finally business terminology is being injected into the UC. There is a light….
    I think of all the people with business acumen that have tried to help over the years only to be denigrated, sneered at, etc…Perhaps a new attitude will also emarge.. Todays successful organizations, realiziing the old ways weren’t working and the great limitations on everyone, form a Partnership with government, not-for- profits and NGOs. Positive energy!.
    We need to foster entrepreneurial ministry.personnel. Builders.
    The question is: Can you (CRTG) affect change before you loose the rest of the Customers (congregations)?
    I commend your group as this last session sounded most worth while.
    My prayers are with you.

  21. I am deeply saddened that the historical relevence of things like remits and our General Council are not being taken seriously. Remits have their genesis in the Scots Reformation and the Barrier Act, I understand, which was intended to prevent the government from running roughshod over the church. It also had the purpose of hearing the mind of the church, engaged in thoughtful, faithful and reflective discussion. Would that we engage in such discussion today and not make decisions by Facebook and Twitter.

    At one point, Annual Meetings of Conferences and General Couincil were much longer than the current two days or eight day cycle. I have a copy of the program of Toronto Conference in 1940, where there were services three times a day, for ten days, with leading preachers at all services. Business was done, yes. But the Word was preached and God’s people strengthened.

    I am reminded to the words of Santayana: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” This is especially true when I hear ideas proposed today which simply repeat practices the United Church had thirty years ago.

  22. Yaa team !
    Let’s broaden this discussion down through the congregations.!
    I have watched the UCW Presbyterials disintegrate across the country and tried to raise the alarm for change. Maybe we can catch the church before it happens at the next level.

  23. Communicating the urgency for change will be the critical first step. My forebearers closed their Congregational church and joined the United Church; think of the changes they overcame. We honor the regulations and traditions they thoughtfully established for their times yet know they were vibrant people who would want our love for Jesus to continue in to tomorrow.
    It is important not too smooth over the urgency as many are unaware or choose to ignore the big picture. And we read that resistance has already started.
    Also the actions of CRTG will demonstrate that the need is imperative, and real. . Your consultant is beginning to suggest balance into the equation- no business acumen, no UC. I fully understand that the vast vast majority know nothing else besides this model which is dangerously tilting.
    People don’t know what they don’t know.
    What a relief a new streamlined model of the UCC will be!

    • As a genetic Congregationalist, (both sides of my family were Congregational leaders in Ottawa and Montreal) the Congregationalist stream actually won a huge concession from the Presbyterians and Methodists at Union in 1925 in that they were able to reject creedal subscription; that any minister or member should have to subscribe to a particualr set of beliefs or creeds save those outlined in the New Testamant. This extends to the understanding of “essential agreement” for those entering the Order of Ministry, which is found both in our ordination and commissioning and in our “ordered liberty” in worship. I like to think that of all the founding denominations, the Congregationalists actually made the least changes to become the United Church of Canada.

  24. What the CRTG is proposing is that the United Church develop clear “Ends”, to use the Carver model of governance phrase, and then equip the church with the “means” to meet the “ends”. Problem is, we have never, ever subscribed to that kind of common “ends” model outside of two conferences (Toronto and BC). Or we wordsmith it to death.

  25. I am so encouraged to hear that the CRTG is meeting with professionals who understand the ins and outs of large scale change…especially professionals who also understand the differentiating factor of our organization as a faithful community. Thank you for engaging with folks in many facets, and I know this is but simply a beginning to provide the TG with the tools, information, and preparation they need to do this important work. Peace to you all!

  26. I have been extremely lucky to attend several churches in the Greater Edmonton area recently. It has struck me that when I attend different UCC churches rather than just one, I get to see some of the parts that make up some of the whole of the UCC. I get to see that each congregation embodies the Church/God/Love as uniquely as each person does. One congregation is so welcoming, one creates beautiful music, another creates a safe space for facilitated conversations about controversial topics, and another creates community through small group interests. Each of them is extremely successful in what they have intentionally set out to do, but less successful in other areas. So it is with humans, so it is with organizations. Perhaps if we could imagine God’s view of the UCC as a whole, we could realize that although it seems that a huge wheel of organizational change must begin to turn, it is already happening in our local congregations. What we intentionally focus on has become what we do wel,l and this has created the change we so desired/feared/ached for in the first place. The people that I have met in these congregations are certainly thriving–as will the UCC if we trust local congregations to continue to create what they intentionally envision.

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