Vision Sharing    

Visioning day 1

May 8, 2002, held at the Fireside Room, Beverley Hills United Church

Visioning day 2

May 22, 2002, held at the Fireside Room, Beverley Hills United Church

Visioning day 3

June 26, 2002, held at the Fireside Room, Beverley Hills United Church



Visioning day 1

May 8, 2002, held at the Fireside Room, Beverley Hills United Church



Today¡¯s meeting is the result of a discussion started at the Conference Executive.  The finance and extra appeals committee had raised a concern over the decline in numbers within the Conference.  At its April, 2002 meeting the Executive had a lively conversation about what is behind the decline, and there was energy to convene a group of interested persons to discuss the situation in which we find ourselves, and what can be done about it.  Cheri DiNovo volunteered to lead the discussion, and the Executive accepted her offer.


Present (some people wearing multiple hats)

Cheri DiNovo (Executive/Toronto West), Marlene Amonsen (Toronto West), Jodi Hoar (Toronto West), David Allen (Conference staff), Ruth Ledsham (finance and extra appeals/Toronto Scarborough), Newton Reed (York), Michael Kooiman (Executive/Toronto Scarborough), Drucilla Travnicek (Executive/Toronto Scarborough), Barbara Lloyd (Conference staff), June Hill (Executive/Toronto West), Alan Ferguson (finance and extra appeals/York), Amy Downs (Executive/Toronto South), Wendy Cranston (Conference staff), Cheryl Curtis (Conference staff), Allan Parker (finance and extra appeals/Muskoka), Vince Alfano (Executive/TUCC), Bob Oxley (Executive/Toronto South), Bill Howes (finance and extra appeals/Grey), Lawrence Pushee (Executive/Toronto South), Susan Howard (Executive/Toronto South), Ron Ewart (Toronto Scarborough), Elizabeth Lundy (Execuitve/Grey), Marina Brown (finance and extra appeals/Grey), Anne Gajerski-Cawley (Executive/York), Tim Dayfoot (Executive/York), Alan Rush (Toronto Scarborough), Nancy Waterman (Executive/Dufferin & Peel), MJ Perry (TUCC/York)



Cheri DiNovo welcomed people to the gathering, and asked people to introduce themselves.  People talked about why they were at the meeting.  Cheri gave some background to the meeting and proposed a series of questions which were addressed in plenary session.


The questions of the day were:

  • Where are we? Who are we?
  • Where do we want to be? Who do we want to be?
  • Why do we want to be there?
  • How do we want to get there?



Discussion:  Discussion proceeded on the questions.  Breaks were taken.


Where are we? Who are we?

  • we are shrinking at a rate of three percent per year
  • we are a movement
  • we are a church that refuses to save itself; we could double our population by each person taking one other person to church
  • we are WASP, despite our ethnic ministries
  • we are apathetic


  • our message is confusing, mixed and impossibly complicated, even to those who are part of the church
  • among the justice seekers, we are the envy
  • we are distracted; 20 years ago we were known as a church that understood church development and direction; we got distracted by debates in the 1980s and lawsuits in the 1990s
  • we are theologically diverse
  • we are the only mainline denomination that is inclusive in its policies of ordination for lesbian/gay/transsexual, though not always in the practice of those policies 


  • we are tongue-tied, members unable to translate their faith and live it
  • we are the largest Protestant denomination (though we¡¯re not sure whether this is still true)
  • we are the boldest, the most conscious that God¡¯s sovereignty is for the entire world, not stopping at the borders of the church
  • we are being changed, e.g. book rooms, UCW
  • we are urban, rural and small town


  • we have our own music and theologians
  • we have abandoned the new suburbs, e.g. reaching out to new residents
  • we do not ask God to "do" something; in prayer, we don¡¯t say to God, "I ask you to..."
  • we¡¯re shy about our piety
  • I am proud of being United Church; we have more freedom


  • we are pretty arrogant that we¡¯re superior to other denominations
  • we are readily self-critical
  • we have a strong, active laity
  • why is it not living out the way we wish it might?
  • we are asked what we want to happen, not top down, but bottom up


  • we are a church of committees and flipcharts
  • we hold the bottom spot for giving per capita and have for the last 25 years
  • we are ambivalent about Jesus Christ
  • we are people who give a lot and give to outside groups
  • we are ambivalent about policies within the church


  • there is an increasing movement to congregational self-preservation without a connection with the wider church
  • we experience congregations feeling at odds with other Courts of the church
  • with all the changes, congregations don¡¯t know where they are
  • we are too building-centric, especially in the area of new church development
  • we have always accepted just about anyone, but now we¡¯re at the stage where people choose deliberately to attend; and we¡¯re irrelevant to people¡¯s lives 


  • we are or are close to becoming community partners, not working in isolation but looking for ways to work with people and groups outside the church where we don¡¯t have control
  • 1936, 1986, 1988 are key dates in our history; statements on the Middle East make me proud to be United Church
  • we are intelligent, a thinking church; we think through what we believe; an engagement between intellect and faith
  • we can not market intelligence, but we have to be here for more reasons than that
  • we are described as "Greenpeace at prayer"


  • we waffle between wanting to be prophetic and popular
  • most often we¡¯re about ideas rather than experience, e.g. we talk about Jesus, but not how we experience him
  • when was the last time you had goose bumps in church? we leave feeling smug, but have we been transformed?
  • we are not good at talking about what spirituality means in our lives
  • intellectual, mystical, ______, action are four ways of expressing the totality of our spirituality; we engage our spirituality from different perspectives


  • we are very repressed bodily in our worship life
  • we discourage an emotional expression of faith, though less so than we used to
  • we are deliberately and intentionally embracing nature in our worship
  • children are not learning the hymns the adults are using
  • we are poor at building the connection between the church and home


  • those who are teaching in church school often don¡¯t have the background of understanding and living out the faith
  • we have the advantage of inherited wealth that we can use to recreate ourselves
  • awesome spirituality is going on in camps
  • we have started four new churches within Toronto Conference in the last five years
  • there is an incredible surge of interest in what we¡¯re about and how we worship; we need to teach people what we do


  • outreach ministries are another way in which we live out our faith, e.g. spirituality at Council Fire
  • small group ministries are a place of stimulus
  • we do not have a clear and simple message
  • we are theologically diverse; what does this mean for our message?



 Where do we want to be? Who do we want to be?

  • we want to be the most faithful denomination, not just the largest
  • we want to be practical; churches are in competition with the new age movements; our message is theologically accessible, but in practice it¡¯s not; how do we love one another? we need to work toward practical methods
  • we want to be more practical in financial matters, e.g. Cedar Glen; we need people with ore financial expertise
  • the church is the only place where you have all the generations together and have relationships
  • we want to continue to be and get better at being the church in particular contexts, e.g. linguistically specific, ethno-specific communities


  • I would like to see us with Vietnamese congregations, Polish, Portuguese
  • we want to be a community of joy that supports one another and supports people through transition in people¡¯s lives
  • our motto was "that all may be one", a uniting church, having conversations with other denominations
  • we want to be imaginative
  • we want to show that praising God is a valued way to use time


  • we are gaining some credibility when we deal with issues like child abuse
  • we would like to see us grow by numbers because we¡¯re welcoming and inclusive
  • we want to continue with service to humanity
  • it is ok to be a niche, so that there¡¯s a church for everybody, a place for everyone; we can¡¯t be all things to all people
  • we want to know who we are and do it well


  • we want to herald our successes
  • if your church disappeared tomorrow, would your community miss it because of the lack of love?
  • we want to have lots of people, no financial concerns, lots of children and strong pensions, but maybe we need to be something else
  • we want to be the common sense theologians to attract the masses
  • we want to be the common sense faith


  • we need to be radically inclusive, e.g. conservative, intellectually not so smart
  • why come to church? it¡¯s cheaper than therapy
  • the Body of Christ needs us; Christ calls us
  • we can be a community full of angels with broken wings
  • we want to be a church that buzzes


  • we want a church of joyous, uplifting worship
  • we want to be a church of intentional communities
  • seekers are more interested in the programs offered by the church rather than the community within the church
  • the church should be outside of the Sunday service; a seven-day church
  • let¡¯s be a proclaiming church


  • we want to be more courageous, we do what we do because we are Christians; be proudly Christian
  • we¡¯d like to be a church that moves forward,  i.e. does not think that everything is moving in a circle, e.g. reinventing the wheel
  • we want to be meeting the people¡¯s needs; feed the people who are hungry and you¡¯ll have people in the church
  • the "how to" is not the problem, the  "will to" is key
  • only through death are we forced to resurrection


  • we need more street ministries and to get ministers out on the street to talk with the people who are there
  • the suburbs are white and wealthy; we¡¯ve backed away because of that; we need to find ways to plant churches in those areas too
  • we want to be speaking more prayerfully and believing that God wants good things for us, and to recognize the Holy Spirit at work; don¡¯t be afraid to ask for big things
  • we are not getting our share of the WASPs or retaining them
  • the church does things many WASPs can¡¯t stomach, e.g. ethical stances
  • we want to live out justice interpersonally, systemically, through our policies
  • we would like to see a way we assist churches to implement change, e.g. duty of care
  • we have to name evil as evil, and we¡¯re afraid to do that
  • we want to be honest about things
  • we need to critique ourselves in relation to our mandate, whatever that happens to be


  • how do we educate people about the use and abuse of power?
  • if we critiqued ourselves more honestly, we¡¯d beat ourselves up less
  • we would like us to feel compelled to share what we have with others
  • the test on whether we¡¯re succeeding is word of mouth
  • give people the tools and permission to gush or brag about the fellowship we enjoy
  • we need to train ourselves to think theologically as much as we think financially; how does this relate to my life as a Christian person?


 Why do we want to be there?


  • because it so pleases God and we want to please God and it pleases us
  • Christ calls us
  • because we have an insatiable need to give
  • because we are about bringing about the kindom of God
  • kindom can become ours, kingdom is never ours
  • because we want to be inclusive


  • because God needs us
  • because we want to learn how to live upside down with a radical reorientation to community
  • because it¡¯s refreshing and nurturing


  • How do we want to get there?


  • public transit
  • pray a lot, be specific in what you¡¯re asking
  • focus on community discernment and reflection on our lives
  • education is key, e.g. seminaries often don¡¯t deal with practical things like how to use a microphone
  • leadership development is needed for both lay and clergy


  • using small group processes requires training for small group facilitators
  • Presbytery to Presbytery workshops on small group processes/ministry could be initiated
  • where do young people today get experience in leadership skills, e.g. as used to happen through Explorers
  • people need to think hopefully, positively
  • how do we help people to hear the positive?


  • the three percent decline may not be accurate, e.g. adherents are not counted
  • rebates on assessments could be offered if there¡¯s a three percent increase in membership
  • we need consistency and accuracy in statistics keeping
  • we could have workshop or information on how to keep records and remove members
  • in our congregations we have services to receive members, but we could also have services to remove members


  • a study has shown that confirmation classes are often not done in the first year of a new ministry and/or the last six months
  • another study shows that three percent of people like classical music; 60 percent like country/rock
  • do not change music entirely, but have a variety of styles
  • the "Breakthrough" event in June will have many workshops on a variety of relevant topics
  • some churches aren¡¯t growing even in areas where they should be growing; what is the role of the clergy in the lack of growth?


  • some lay people in congregations have decided the congregation will die
  • Presbytery and Conference responsibilities are a problem keeping ministers from their work in congregations
  • we need to suspend our judgment about those who are wealthy; they don¡¯t feel welcome, and need to be taught about how to share their wealth
  • facing problems is a place that gives us energy
  • in Hamilton Conference there was a visioning day for whoever wanted to show up on where we¡¯re going


  • the Conference Executive can intentionally continue working on these issues
  • we need a better balance between introverts and extraverts in clergy
  • how often are we going to reduce the time of our personnel, e.g. need to take a good look at how we go about realignments/amalgamations?
  • a Baptist model has a staff person specifically to work with congregations for a longer period of time, e.g. six months, to look at their future and difficulties within the congregation
  • we could have congregational coaches who provide oversight and support and counsel around difficulties before they turn into problems


  • accompaniment and mentoring and guiding new leaders in congregations could be key
  • pastoral care teams are needed
  • clergy have the potential to devastate or lift up a congregation
  • we need to be proactive in communities as they change and evolve; we¡¯re often last in
  • we could ordain without a pastoral charge to do church planting and building


  • strong small churches are built by relationships and they grow or are destroyed because of that
  • offer scholarships to attract people to the ministry who speak languages other than English
  • we need to ask people their church affiliations in places like new housing developments
  • we can be a community of justice in the world whatever our context happens to be; justice is not an in-house activity
  • how well we maintain our places is important; is it clean? Is there fresh paint? Are the people welcoming?


  • we need to share our resources in other places to enable churches or ministries to start elsewhere or in existing facilities
  • the minister greeting people outside after worship is important for visibility in the community
  • we need to make more balanced pronouncements on social and political issues
  • there needs to be lively debate rather than a party line
  • the outsides of our buildings need to be examples of things that are happening


  • we need to share good ideas of what works and what doesn¡¯t, rather than being in competition with each other
  • we need to work collegially and collaboratively, not in competition
  • one of our structural problems is that the minister who I might approach about a problem in the charge could be the person who would later be called upon to review my ministry
  • we need to know our community better, e.g. how many single mothers, how many food banks, etc.
  • we could take three years without any closures or amalgamations while we find ways of working together


  • we need United Church campuses across the city, rather than congregations that are closed or amalgamated with the attendant decline in membership
  • let us re-look at amalgamations
  • people are on tenterhooks about closing or amalgamating
  • put a seniors home close to churches wherever it make sense
  • we need to lift up our traditions to help people to understand why the church is there


  • share stories, advertise, advocate for stronger branding and positioning
  • we need buildings for God¡¯s people to gather and learn how to be God¡¯s people
  • there should be consistency in our signs on churches and ministries supported by the church
  • let us have quality control for our brand
  • we have the resources to do all these things at the various levels of the churches
  • we have to leave opportunities for freedom


  • continuous and intentional visioning is important
  • bring a friend to the next meeting




a) Sue Howard, Anne Gajerski-Cawley, Allan Parker and Cheri DiNovo will meet to distill what has happened today.  They¡¯ll gather on Wednesday, May 15. 


b) The next general meeting of this group Wednesday, May 22; bring a friend.  That meeting will consider what the sub-group is proposing.  There may be some information available for the annual meeting.


c) There may be a substantial discussion at the Executive level in the fall.


The meeting ended with the singing from Voices United of "Walls that Divide".  Cheri closed the meeting with prayer and a benediction.





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Updated April 27, 2005