The basements of United Churches tell a chapter of the social history of Canada. Whenever I have occasion to spend time in them, I am struck by their size; the labyrinth of classrooms and the always-present high-ceilinged, usually cold, gym. There was a time when United Churches ruled the world – the social world of Canada – so to speak. They were the backbones of communities socially and spiritually, and quite often the “recreation centre” for youth.
In 2016, the leadership of the United Church of Canada (UCC) has embarked on a journey of culture change. The Embracing the Spirit initiative is intent on “inspiring its members and congregations to try something different and embrace change, so that they can be hopeful about the future,” cited Carla Leon, with Embracing the Spirit.
Carla claims that, in order to support this culture change, the leadership of UCC is doing things differently. They are leading the church in establishing partnerships outside their doors, such as a relationship with Habitat for Humanity. As churches redevelop their facilities, they can work with Habitat to provide prime real-estate for affordable housing.
A partnership with Waterloo University through St Paul’s University College, historically a UCC educational institution, has resulted in students supporting and leading local churches in innovation workshops.
A Social Mentor Network links churches and Embracing the Spirit Social Innovation Projects with mentors from the business world who often have no connection with the UCC. For example, Amann Adatia of the Naaco Food Truck is acting as a mentor for projects in Calgary.
The Embracing the Spirit initiative is offering innovation workshops to churches and innovation grants ($500 – 5000) to support them in exploring and prototyping projects that have a positive spiritual, social, ecological impact and are financially sustainable.
Carla wonders if her hopes for the UCC’s initiative are too bold. Her hope is that, in the future, the UCC will not be known for what happens on Sunday morning but for what happens during the rest of the week . . . such as cafes and festivals, ESL classes and community hubs, yoga and Elder care. She hopes that current perceptions of church will be turned upside down and church will become associated with vitality, vibrancy and relevance 7 days a week, not just on Sundays.