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Another way to celebrate the millennium: a case for uniting with the United Church.

I was pleased when John Congram, as Moderator of the 123rd General Assembly, suggested The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) engage in talks with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (From the Moderator, October 1997 Record). However, that idea raised a question for me: If we can dialogue with the Lutherans, why do we not talk with The United Church of Canada?

Various ideas have been presented as to how we might celebrate the year 2000. This year, the PCC will hold its 125th General Assembly, launching 125th celebrations that will extend into the year 2000. At the same time, the United Church will be celebrating the 75th aniversary of its existence in Canada. Let's use this opportunity to begin talks with the United Church. The purpose of those conversations need not commit us to an organic union, but they could possibly prepare us for such a step.

We live in a country different from 1925. Three generations have been born since "The Union" or "The Disunion" of 1925. Both churches require a new cooperative strategy to face the new millennium. The two denominations already have much in common. The people of The United Church of Canada are our closest Christian relatives. Our members transfer back and forth without difficulty. Indeed, they tell us they see few differences between the two churches at worship. My wife grew up within the United Church. She believes her training, her theology and her relationships there prepared her well to become a committed member of the Presbyterian Church.

In many places, United Church and Presbyterian congregations combine for worship in the summer to allow their ministers to get away for vacations. In several settings, Presbyterians have made comity arrangements with the United Church to avoid competition and overlapping. We receive ministers from The United Church of Canada into our church, and they receive ministers from our denomination.

The governances of our churches are similar -- with minor differences. In the United Church, ordination of ministers occurs at the conferences (synods); we ordain ministers in the presbyteries. In the United Church, the General Council convenes every two years (although it is trying a three-year term); in the Presbyterian Church, our General Assembly meets every year.

Many congregations in The United Church of Canada are more Presbyterian than many congregations within our denomination that is often criticized for being too congregational. We could gain from their Presbyterian appraoch, and we could contribute to them out of our experience.

Both The United Church of Canada and The Presbyterian Church in Canada are members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Both are considered to be within the Presbyterian family. While it is true both denominations have grown apart and have changed since 1925, it is also true we overlap in most areas. Our ministers study the same theologians, deal with the same issues and are part of the same culture in Canada.

My attitudes have been forged by my experience in Guyana as well as in Canada. In Guyana, the churches worked together and crossed denominational lines because they did not have the money, the ministers or the energy to do everything separately. In Canada, so far, we are rich enough to remain separate. Before the time comes when we are forced to unite, why not become informed about one another? Let us be intentional about working together and about planning for that day when those things that separate us can be removed.

I applaud the suggestion that we dialogue with Lutherans. But, before or while we undertake that, let us enter into negotiations with The United Church of Canada where so many of our closest brothers and sisters in the faith reside. To begin talking officially in the year 2000 would be an excellent way to celebrate the unity that is already ours in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Even more important, it would help both churches open up to the Spirit of God.

Zander Dunn, minister of Knox Church in Guelph, Ont., will retire at the end of this month.
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Author:Dunn, Zander
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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