Zion Calendar

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

General Secretary's Weekly Letter

May 16, 2013

Dear Friends,

Last week was a difficult one at the General Council Office. In follow up to the decisions made at the meeting of the Executive of the General Council the previous weekend, we laid off staff and announced cuts to grants to meet a more frugal budget in 2014. The decisions were necessary but hard.

These aren’t the moments one has in mind when asked to offer leadership in the church, but I’m grateful for the Executive members and staff colleagues who made the decisions carefully and carried them out.

We had a staff meeting this week, one of the big ones for everyone in the office (and those from Conferences who chose to join in by videoconference). It was a quiet group, as people are still settling into the changes, but the thing that prevented it from being overly grim was the thoughtful opening by the Moderator. He acknowledged the uncertainty that everyone was feeling and offered it back to us as a time of possibility. When I say that here, it sounds trite. When he speaks, it touches the listeners in a way real, poetic, and hopeful.

Sitting in a meeting with the Moderator’s Advisory Committee this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the rare privilege I have had to work closely with the past three Moderators, each one different, each one a powerful leader of our church.

I was appointed at the meeting where David Giuliano was elected Moderator. I met him at the 39th General Council for the first time, and then occasionally that first autumn, but I didn’t actually work with him until I had finished up my previous work in Saskatchewan and moved to Toronto over Christmas. It was a good thing for him that Jim Sinclair was still here to introduce him to his role, because I was green as grass about the General Council Office, too.

We did a lot of learning together, but I have no doubt that I learned much more from him than the other way around. His life was turned upside down by cancer in the midst of his term, yet throughout he offered deeply spiritual leadership with a rare mix of humility and strong will.

We left the 40th General Council with a new Moderator, Mardi Tindal, a lay person like me but with a long history of work in the United Church, everything from camps and youth work to Vision TV to Five Oaks. Mardi brought her wonderful gifts for working with groups of people to draw ideas and purpose from them. God’s love for this beautiful and fragile earth was at the heart of her theology and this resonated strongly with so many in the church, and beyond.

And now Gary Paterson, not far into his term, but already engaged in conversations across the church through his blog, his visits, and his preaching. He is actively involved in the process of listening and engaging with new ideas, which is the work of the Comprehensive Review Task Group. His positive nature carries a sense of possibility in all that he does.

One of the strange and beautiful things about my role is getting to work with a series of Moderators and supporting them to lift up the visions they bring to their roles. With each one, it is hard to think of them leaving in three years and being replaced by anyone new, and yet, as is so often said in the United Church, “we always get the right Moderator for the time.”

One of the things that I remember most clearly from the Arnprior Conference in 2005, before I ever thought of working in this office, was the night that most of the former Moderators sat down together and talked to us about their experiences as Moderator and their vision for the United Church. What I remember more than what any of them said was the sense of this amazing group of individuals, each so different and each so gifted, and all part of the leadership of our wonderful church.

After a week of facing up to challenging budget constraints, I invite you to reflect with gratitude on all those who offer leadership in all parts of the United Church.