A friend of mine recently asked me why I attend and belong to the Canadian Council of Churches. As a practical matter I attend the CCC because I was selected by the United Church of Canada to be one of two official representatives to the CCC. But I chose to apply for this work and I did so for specific reasons, all of which have been fulfilled by the four biannual meetings I have attended thus far. As indicated in previous blogs I am a doer and a thinker and struggle with process. It’s an unusual combination of strengths and weaknesses but it is who I am and those who know and love me would concur. I can work and work and work and I read/think, read/think, read/think and not tire but as for meetings, process gatherings, consultations, I am exhausted. It is always a good thing to know one’s self and know what fills us and what tires us.
The work of the Canadian Council of Churches is not a “doing” body, we do not “do” much, we usually talk, listen, and hope to find consensus so that we can speak with one voice on important issues of the day. These issues include palliative care and dying, refugees, poverty, and reconciliation with First Nations People. So in some sense there is an “action” if you consider speaking as one voice on an important public issue is an action. But there are no “boots on the ground” by the CCC, only this voice that is raised to our elected leaders and the country at large.
So what is a “doer” like me doing in a place like this? The answer is simple, I have never attended a gathering where persons of Christian faith can and do speak about their faith, thought and action, in an atmosphere of trust, love and respect. Never. In most such gatherings there is suspicion, judgement and fear. I wish that were not true, but it is. Traditional churches here are not judging newer church that seem less grounded in the past, evangelical churches here are not judging more liberal churches as unbiblical, liberal churches here are not judging all the other churches as judgemental. Here persons of faith listen to one another as sisters and brothers in faith and thus our listening is qualitatively different, the way families listen to each other.
In my four meetings here I have heard first voice testimonies from evangelical leaders, orthodox leaders, and liberal leaders, persons who are new to Canada and persons here who have lived and worked in Canada their whole life. In their presentations these leaders do two things you don’t always see in an ecumenical space, they speak about why they are who they are and they speak about their identity with the sensitivity of knowing there are listeners who may feel otherwise about the matters of faith that are important to them. This is not about people being “safe” and protecting themselves from attack, rather the sensitivity comes from a feeling of not wanting to hurt one’s family. That quality of speaking and listening, in a Christian context, is rare and beautiful.
So that is why I attend this gathering and why I love to hear ALL of the presentations from ALL of the denominations. I learn so much from ALL of them. There has never been a presentation here that left me uneasy, even when I would not agree with an expression of faith I was nonetheless stretched to think/feel differently about my own faith and work as a minister. The Canadian Council of Churches is a blessed place.