Moderator Mardi’s Blog: What’s in a preposition?

I’ll never forget the summer I worked at a Mennonite camp—Fraser Lake Camp—near Bancroft, Ontario. It was a life-shaping, late-teen experience from which I have carried Romans 12:2 as a precious passage ever since: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This passage came to mind when I read a recent tweet from Slif: “I vote we change the name of the UCC from ‘of Canada’ to ‘in Canada.’ In ‘the world’ but not of ‘the world,’ I say.”

Slif and the writer of Romans are saying, I think, that the church must allow God to guide us more than the world, so we must remain somewhat separate—in the culture but not of the culture—in order to be faithful.

Slif, aka Ryan, also blogs at The Peaceable Kingdom. I’m glad I found him, as he offers wisdom about how we don’t recognize our own cultural assimilation as a church. Like fish who take water for granted, we tend to take the secular culture in which we’re immersed for granted.

This is equally true of church culture. Many years ago I lived in a community that relied on immigrant farm workers. One day in a church committee meeting I wondered aloud how we might invite these workers into our worship life, since most of them were Christians with strong connections to their Caribbean churches. There was no point exploring this, someone told me kindly, because “I think you’ll find they have to work on Sunday.”

The writer of Romans offers a strong challenge to remain vigilant about keeping ourselves centred in gospel more than in culture, either of the world or the church. Easier said than done.

As I hear it, the argument that we should be a church in Canada carries the hope that we would maintain our distinctiveness, just as I do my best to prevent the egg yolk from breaking into the white when I’m poaching eggs.

And yet I think we’re bound to be scrambled. How can we have a heart of love for the other if we stand apart from one another, if we aren’t in full relationship with one another—of one another? My church is a church of Christ, not a church of culture. And yet Christ is found in every culture (and every culture offers its distinctiveness to Christianity, contributing new strands to the tapestry). So to be a church of Canada is to be fully engaged in relationship with all Canadians.

Over the past few decades, for example, the face of society has changed much more than the face of the church, as I was reminded at the recent Journeys of Black Peoples event. In this sense, being in this society without being of it is, I believe, to be less than who we’re meant to be. (I look forward to hearing my friends, Yvonne Wright and Dr. Ngozi Nwokoro, speak this coming Sunday at our church about their experience of the Journeys of Black Peoples event.)

Likewise, last week I received “Letters to the Moderator” written by youth at last November’s national Consultation for Racialized Youth in the United Church. Here are two samples:

Dear Moderator, I want the United Church to be more diverse. The United Church I go to has a large congregation, although the majority is old White people. In the youth group, I am the only ethnic minority. I will do my best to build The United Church of Canada as a community. With everyone’s help and support, please let’s change the UCC.

Dear Moderator, I think the United Church is soooo amazing!… I especially appreciate how much has gone into supporting and helping the cultural minorities in church such as my own, Amazing Grace UC. I would love to see the United Church grow and expand over the next few years.… I would love to continue to attend these kinds of events and help encourage other youth to come out. I still find it hard to fit in as a cultural minority in large groups and would like to be encouraged and advised as to how I can be more brave or strong to be able to attend these regional/national events without feeling left out or uncomfortable.

To be a church of Canada is to better reflect the racial and age diversity of Canadians.

To be a church of Canada is to stand with those with whom we share common concerns. With the Canadian Jewish Congress and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we have expressed our concern about the federal government’s plan to make the long-form census optional. As the Rev. Bruce Gregersen, General Council Officer, Programs, has said, “We see this as a step backward at a time when Canadians need access to reliable census information to help build a more equitable and just society.”

To be a church of Canada is to be fully engaged with the needs and hopes of Canadians.

To be a church of Canada is to be a church of the world. Last month 80 religious leaders from around the world gathered at a World Religions Summit. We urged the G8/20 leaders to act on United Nations Millennium goals (see our final statement).

To be a church of Canada is to have a respectful relationship with First Peoples of this land, as well as with the land itself, and the water and air of Canada’s varied bioregions.

So there’s a lot to be said, I think, for being of Canada…and, of course, Ryan is right when he cautions that our cultural assimilation challenges us to hold the tension of being in the world but not of the world.

At the end of the day I want both, of course. I say we’re called to be The United Church in and of Canada.

Oh my, how Canadian!

What’s your preposition?