“Structures and passion? A church blog, Seriously?”

As we are close to halfway through the Christian season called Lent, reflection is a constant touchstone. It seemed to me that these two realities – structure and passion – would be an appropriate matter about which to muse …

Think of these two ideas as dance partners and – right now – it seems that our wee The United Church of Canada (UCC) is trying to find the right harmony, the right tune, rhythm or rhyme to get this party started! And – if we are to be honest – that’s proving to be somewhat of a challenge.

broken structure

broken structure
Image: Scott Swigart

In the world of organisational change and culture shifting, whenever any group of people are together – whether they gather as a church denomination, non-profit group, business or family – change is inevitable. How we live into that, however, can unleash creativity, playful wonder, and curiosity or entrench a sense of oppression, cynicism, and even apathy. How we do that with intention can propel our imagination or quench the fire within. I think it is fair to say that for many – in the UCC – we know the stage has been set, we’re just waiting to see if anyone will show up with their invitations in hand!

Part of the disconnect I have experienced, is that our structures are grounded in a time called modernity. A time that began to shift in the late 1950s. In a modern context, answers and binaries are valued. Certainty and identity are found in affiliations, degrees and designations. Though our structures and the way they operate – sometimes called governance and polity – have a long history, they are confronting values and ways of being sometimes described as the postmodern.

Through a postmodern lens of the world, there is comfort in paradox and uncertainty. There is often a sense that change is the new norm and that embracing it can be exciting. Often the relationship between the modern and postmodern is tense, anxious feeling and disheartening. For those who long for certainty, postmodernity seems wishy-washy and ambiguous. For the postmodern, the binaries and right & wrong of the old structures feels judgemental and stifling. Needless to say, these eddies and waves, undercurrents and tides are awash in the UCC. And – unfortunately – these two partners often find themselves looking at one another from across the dance floor dressed in differing generational costumes. The music’s playing, the party is started, but no one is dancing.

purple passion

purple passion
Image: Anthony Easton

For the last few years, the UCC has been focused on structures as a way to address this tension. Though there is certainly value in figuring how to do things that might release energy and time, often the underlying motivation has been fiscal in nature. Such a rationale, however can be a challenge, if that for which people long is passion’s embrace: a desire to connect with the underlying mission that emboldens people to do wild and weird stuff called ministry. In Christian speak, the passion for which we long is intimately grounded in the ‘Good News.’

As I pause near the end of this week’s blog, I am sitting in a gathering of Sisters and Brothers who have gathered from throughout the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Needless to say, the geography those of us gathered represent is vast and diverse. Needless to say, these structure conversations have arisen. Needless to say, that the uncertainty implicit in structural change has not been – necessarily – life-giving. I would not claim that is a universal experience, but I am struck by the idea of ‘flow.’

Flow is one of those ideas often associated with passion. It’s that synergy or connexion when time seems to disappear. As flow recedes, often the clocks hands have shifted dramatically, there’s a sense of fatigue and – ultimately – a sense of accomplishment. I hope – as this gathering draws to an end – there will be a sense that this was faithful time well-spent.

  • As we – as a denomination – realise we are now walking into structural change, and regardless of how we have arrived at this juncture, where is your passion?
  • Where is our sense of collective mission?
  • How might we tap into memories that connect with the transformative potential called faith?

These are the questions and encouragements that now invite us into dreaming dreams. Hopefully these new ways of being as the UCC tap into and honour our stories, as individuals, congregations and as a denomination. Stories that may be particular to our context, but speak to a universal thread that helps us shine bravely in the midst of shadows that gather in this time called Lent