Jesus welcomed everyone, whether they were poor, rich, or just getting by; ill or healthy; self-made or educated; popular or a loner; secure or full of doubts. The United Church of Canada prides itself on welcoming everyone the way Jesus did, regardless of age, race, class, gender, orientation, or physical ability. [United Church of Canada Doctrinal Statement]
The United Church of Canada (UCC) was founded in 1925 through the fusion of the Methodist, Congregationalist and about 70% of Canadian Presbyterian churches into one large Church body. Faced with the daunting task of serving and evangelizing communities in the vast, sparsely populated western frontier church leaders began sharing resources as early as the 1850s and formally dropped their ties to their parent organizations in the United States and England on June 10th, 1925.
In a world that consists of well over 4000 different Christian denominations, formed it seems at the drop of a hat (over such seemingly trivial things as how to properly drop your hat) it is exceedingly rare for any churches to successfully unite. Right from the start the UCC has been a very inclusive denomination, tolerant of a variety of doctrinal positions and interpretation but it has often been criticized by other evangelical Christians for being too inclusive. The joke around my house growing up from my dad (a Baptist) was that mom (from the UCC) didn’t join a real church until she married him. He used to say that UCC stood for the Un-Churched of Canada.
As a result of its inclusive stance, The United Church was one of the first mainline churches in Canada to ordain women and remains the only church to recognize same-sex unions, (although the decision to perform marriages is left up the individual pastors).
The doctrine of the United Church hinges largely on this statement from the apostle Paul.
… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17-20]
I’ve written on this passage before [The Mission] but it’s interesting to note what Webster’s Dictionary says about reconciliation.
Reconcile: To bring together again in love and friendship
I get into trouble with a lot of my more conservative, evangelical friends when I talk about inclusivity but if the mission of the church is to be reconciled to God and if to reconcile means to bring together again, how can we not be inclusive? This inclusive stance has made the United Church of Canada a beacon of unity for all Christians. It’s a big tent, with room for everyone but the teaching of Jesus and the reconciling mission of the church remains the center post of that tent.
As one United Church pastor once said, speaking of the diversity of all religions, Islam, Buddhists and Christian and within his own denomination specifically – “There are many paths up the mountain, but the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) resides at the summit.”
Today, Sunday we’d all do well to remember the inclusive message of the United Church of Canada – unity through reconciliation. Let’s throw wide the doors of the church!
And the sign said, “Everybody Welcome. Come in kneel down and pray.” But when they passed around the plate at the end of it
all, I didn’t have a penny to pay. So I got me a pen and paper and I made up my own little sign I said, “Thank You Lord for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and I’m doing fine. [Five Man Electrical Band]