“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” I Corinthians 12:14
The Canadian Council of Churches has begun the second decade of our life together in forum. It seems only right to remind the Governing Board of how we have come to this place and the blessings which we have found there.
To begin, it must be remembered that the Council is not a partner of the denominations but from the first in 1944 has been and remains a creation of its member churches. During our first fifty years, for the most part we mirrored the polity and practice of our largest founding traditions, including the Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians and United Church. Membership and voice were dependent on numbers and financial contribution.
But as St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere neither largeness nor largesse holds sway in the kingdom of God.
In consequence, a creative minority of Governing Board members, among them past-President Richard Schneider, evolved a sophisticated and Spirit-inspired strategy for a truly inclusive and accountable model of ecumenical governance: the Canadian Council of Churches Governing Board Forum.
They laboured tirelessly during the 1994 triennium and in the summer of 1997 at the triennial meeting in Ottawa their concept became covenant.
The fruits of Forum were an immediate harvest. From a membership of eleven denominations dominated by the big Protestant players the Council has expanded to 21 members. The Forum assurance of equal voice for all at the table has brought into a renewed ecumenical body such disparate traditions as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Mennonite Church Canada. As our General Secretary quite properly asserts the CCC represents the broadest and deepest cooperative ecumenical coalition in the world, bringing together the five great streams of Christianity, the Anglican, Evangelical and Free Church, the historic Reform, the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic.
The past decade has been satisfying and sobering.
We engage regularly in the risky business of self-revelation, one to another, learning as Paul taught us that the diversity of members is the essence of the Body of Christ.
But mutual understanding and increasing respect has bred neither complacency nor a harmony grounded in indifference.
The consensus which now governs our deliberations is often hard-won and sometimes elusive. Through hard work and a patience that is a gift of God’s Grace we have developed protocols and procedures that render us the envy and the model of Christian Councils from Geneva to Jo-Burg.
Compromises are often necessary, but never at the price of conviction. How could it be otherwise, when our priorities and our very agendas spring from the witness and mission of our constituent denominations.
The General Secretary and the Executive Committee of the Governing Board develop our Council agendas a year at a time seeking to balance worship, work and witness – an especially challenging task given our 2007 commitment to convene our spring Council meeting in the national capital that we might be present to Parliament and to speak the Power of Truth.
To be sure the realities of Forum have resulted in a greater humility of witness, but that is consistent with our mission and mandate.
The voice with which we speak to the world owes its integrity to our common witness in Christ. Our first obligation is ever to be the Body of Christ in ecumenical
friendship; to show Christ to one another through the beauty of our individual traditions and to witness to the world the divine diversity which is the Church universal.
The work of our Commissions and committees, our impact on Canadian society and the world is a “value-added”.
As a Council we must always exercise vigilance in stewardship and discipline in strategic planning. But like the wise bridesmaids and the judicious householder, we must adhere to our agendas lightly. We follow the Risen Christ along His path not ours. He is ever making “all things new” and surprise will be our constant companion.
In this decade as in the last we are well advised to adopt the posture of the great historian Herbert Butterfield “hold fast to Christ and for the rest remain completely uncommitted”.
The Rev. Dr. James Christie
President, The Canadian Council of Churches
November 9, 2008
Somewhere over the Atlantic