Within the United Church of Canada’s structure there have been 13 Conferences. These have been responsible for the ordination and commissioning of new ministers. They have also provided programing, mission, youth, and personnel resources to the churches in their bounds. With the changes anticipated in the church’s structure in the coming year these conferences met for the last time this spring.
In the early days of my ministry a conference annual meeting was an exciting, intense event. The conference would debate important social issues and determine which should be presented to government (this is back when the United Church made regular presentations to governments), we would hear from internationally renowned theologians, we would debate and worship and eventually leave feeling renewed. The role of Conference in these last few years has been diminished but it has still been a place to gather with the wider church and share the ideas that make us one denomination.
At the final meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference held in Napanee April 26-29 four people were ordained and two commissioned. Nine proposals were considered. One focused on right relations with native peoples, three focused on equity and equal access for participation in the church, two were trying to ensure that the needs of small rural churches were met by the new governance structure, one sought clarification on funding within the new structure, two focused on language issues in the church’s statements and structure, and finally one sought us to ally with UNESCO against racism and discrimination. A 24 voice youth choir sang. An aboriginal man spoke of the process of healing relations. We imagined the future of the church in a new regional configuration.
I went to this meeting anticipating a lot of grief. I expected people to lament the change and the loss but was pleasantly surprised by the energy in the room, the sense of hope and optimism for the future. People brainstormed new focuses for networking our various ministries including: camps, food justice issues, affirming ministries, and overseas partnerships. With no governance function it is hoped that the ministries can focus instead on living the gospel.
I shall miss Conference. I think it will take some time for us to build something new in its place. But I hope what emerges can facilitate the work God calls this church to do.