In a couple of weeks I am to begin a series of presentations named “Stepping Further Out” (Ottawa – Oct 27; Calgary – Oct 30; Vancouver – Nov 6).
As a way of summarizing the past I am flirting with these paragraphs. I wonder though whether it is too harsh, not tough enough or just true. I’d appreciate any comments. Thanks.
Three years ago, the situations of The United Church of Canada and General Motors had a lot in common.
Although we made gestures, in the form of motions and policy formation, and talked a lot about innovation we did not really appreciate the depth and speed of a rapidly changing context. We operated with varying degrees of a sense of entitlement, our dealers/paid accountable leaders had grown accustomed to a certain degree of “loyalty” from their customers/parishioners and were fundamentally confused by this new reality. Our engagement with the public realm had become sloganistic and we were locked into one “product line”/definition of what it means to be a “justice church.” The organizational structure born in the age of industrialism and refined in the time of institutionalization and incorporation not only proved in adequate to the challenge but, in many cases, inhibited innovation and creative response at the local level, despite being populated by good people with good intentions who worked hard at what they perceived to be the task. Research and development of alternate ways had some support and some exciting prototypes of innovation were pumped up at the yearly trade shows or conference meetings but generally business continued as usual. Some voices tried to point to a context/market that was changing in fundamental ways but there was little sense of urgency within the organization. The result was that people, many people, were hurt and, in the case of the United Church, God’s intentions neutered.
The good old days of The United Church of Canada (and General Motors) predated the arrival of The Beatles and the mythology surrounding “those days” was often as representative of the real church as The Cleavers were of a real family. Certainly the numbers, the prime criteria of ministerial success and proof of God’s celebrity endorsement, were highest a half century ago but the church then was far from ideal.