Cruxifusion has adopted the tradition of posing questions to nominees for Moderator of the United Church of Canada so that we may learn a bit more about them. To view answers from all nominees for GC43, click here.
1. Who is Jesus Christ for you?
God becoming human is not an assertion to take lightly. The doctrine of the incarnation is what makes the Christian faith unique. When I was part of the Theology and Faith Committee writing “A Song of Faith”, we chose to say:
“We find God made known in Jesus of Nazareth,
and so we sing of God the Christ, the Holy One embodied.”
The Holy One embodied! Small wonder we too are awesome.
Jesus is the reason we are church. His teachings to the disciples, the truth of God incarnate, the gift at Pentecost: all of this brings the witness of the prophets into contemporary relief, the power of Creation into awe, and the nature of relationship into holy Trinity.
Theology, the reading or study of God, is a community enterprise. My understanding sits beside yours and those of others, and we become the church Christ calls. It’s not about “my theology” but about us living with a large God, accepting that our several gathered understandings get us closer to God than we would be on our own. That’s one of the reasons I love John Bell’s hymn “First-born of Mary,” MV 110, “provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice. Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice”. Jesus is active now, calling us into the contemporary world and we cannot predict or contain where he will take us.
2. The General Council Executive has identified discipleship and faith formation as a key objective of the work of our denomination for the next three years. Please share something about your personal understanding of Christian discipleship.
Discipleship is character. The way I am seen to live is my discipleship. I choose to be hopeful not anxious, and generous not mercenary.
The same is true for the church: when we are true to our Christian character, the public sees a joyful community that is making a positive difference – that’s inviting.
Joy draws us; joy draws people. Anxiety repels people. Spiritually hungry neighbours can tell immediately if a congregation or a leader is anxious: it’s like you can smell it when you walk through the door.
And mercenary: let’s draw people in to share joy, not prop up either our finances or our need to replicate ourselves. We have a solid heritage and God will guide us.
3. As Moderator, your task, according to the Manual (2016) is to: “give leadership to the United Church, especially in spiritual things, quickening in the hearts of the people a sense of God as revealed in Christ, and heartening and strengthening the whole United Church.” How might you see yourself doing this, and particularly to the small, rural, and more isolated congregations that comprise a large percentage of our denomination?
I didn’t want to answer the call to serve as Moderator until I had experienced a range of life in our church: remote, urban, rural, traditional, and out-of-the-box. I wanted to “get it”, to live deeply in ministry in a variety of communities. Now I can speak as Moderator with integrity. I am prepared to offer the spiritual leadership that quickens the heart with an awareness of the Divine, that quickens the mind with an openness to curious and constructive thought, and that quickens the community with a desire to draw closer rather than to divide.
Showing up is an essential part of the Moderator’s work. I appreciated it when Moderators showed up where I was: Robert McClure at a dinner table when I was a child, for instance, and Sang Chul Lee at a children’s camp I led in northern New Brunswick. That relational part of the office is exhibited faith. It is sacred – even Trinitarian – in nature. That means a great deal of time being out in the denomination, not tucked in the denominational cubicles.
4. Recognizing our ecumenical connections, how would you help the U.C.C. become more welcoming of those who hold a more orthodox or Christ-centred theology?
I have loved my time with the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches: international conversation keeps us aware of our neighbours. The conferences and studies I have undertaken give me opportunities to meet ministry people from a wide variety of theological perspectives in the US and the global churches, some of which are vastly different from any United Church expression. I have enjoyed my local ecumenical lunch gatherings too: because we get to know one another’s perspectives we can stand together as protection around a mosque in Edmonton or lead a memorial service for a city’s grief after murders in Yellowknife.
I see our denomination welcoming a variety of ministry personnel from international partners; many do speak sturdily about Christ. We thrive and deepen when we talk about our various understandings of liturgy, prayer, practice, and faith. I know that the United Church enjoys robust whole-hearted theological conversations – we have discovered that over and again; for instance in consultations on hymn books, A Song of Faith, and subordinate standards. The benefits of these conversations are deeper understandings and honest relationships.
We need to get over our anxieties about theological difference. We need to move out of our echo chambers and look instead at respect for the imagination of our minds. I had a Louisville Institute grant to look at United Church understandings of the Trinity and you welcomed me to observe and participate and worship with you. I was very happy to attend Cruxifusion at your invitation, and interested to hear expressions of a more evangelical style than I heard in other places during my travels across the denomination.
5. How can we pray for you and what is your prayer for the Church?
Thank you. I’d appreciate prayers for clarity, that others’ anxiety won’t cloud my sense of call but rather inform the work before me. A prayer I offer for the Church is that we trust in the grace of God.