This ‘Untied’ Church of Ours Rev. Ian MacLean June 8th, 2008 According to the oft quoted anonymous “fella”, “I guess you had to be there!” and I’m safe in saying none of us were; in Toronto, on the 10th of June, 1925. Thousands of people were. That’s the day where, after decades of gestation and years of hard labour, the United Church of Canada was born. No one of us were there but one who was reported, “Yesterday’s gathering will live long in the memories of those fortunate enough to be present . Beneath the lofty arched roof of the great arena, the sacred covenant of union was signed…by the leaders of the three uniting churches, while a sea of some seven thousand faces gazed on the spectacle in silent reverence and prayer” ( The Christian Church in Canada – H.H. Walsh p.303). I imagine that silence was akin to the breath holding silence in the marriage ceremony when the minister says, “if anyone knows just cause why these two persons should not be married, let that person speak now or for ever hold his peace.. “ Not that there were not dissidents. A s Walsh goes on to say, “there was also some bitter aftermath”. The aftermath some of us can remember and others of us lived with the stories of divided congregations, split families, torn communities, fights over property. The tensions spilled over from religious convictions to political affiliations. Over time, the bitterness waned as life went on, but within the union bitterness festered from time to time over issues of faith and practice. The threat of and expressions of scorn (of which the hymn writer speaks in our opening Hymn) have been with us from decade to decade. In his book “A Short History of Christianity” Martin marty called the emergence of Ecumenism ( of which 1925 was an early signal) “the great new fact of our time”. Then he goes on to ask, “can it sustain itself as institutions harden?” Good question! In my own relativity brief span of forty plus years of ministry there have been numerous stress and strains. When I was ordained in 1961 the United Church was under attack for its brave launching of the New Curriculum with a less than literal interpretation of scripture. A few years later there was a “ and cry” over the Mission Study on China and the fact that the cover of the study material was red! It must have been a Communist plot! A few years later, in the glow of the historic Second Vatican Council, the Observer had the nerve to put Pope John XXlll’s picture on the cover! Oh! The letters to the editor cancelling subscriptions were as hate filled as they were numerous. Then there was the period of union discussions with the Anglican Church in Canada which went on at local, regional, and national levels. I remember hearing Dr. Laurie Cragg, then President of Mt. Allison University, addressing a meeting of Matitime Conference and pleading that the churches come to the table with blank sheets of paper before they opened their trunks full of tradition. Lots of Luck! We once called our selves a United and Uniting church but the optimism has waned. Perhaps the most recent and most destructive of issues over the past twenty years has been the awakening to and the debate about human sexuality. About that time, Ralph Milton’s light hearted but level-headed description of our church was published with the title “This United Church Of Ours”. In the height (or was it depth) of the controversy, distressed members expressed their concern by twisting the word “united” to read “untied” – as if the church was abandoning the Bible, tradition and practice. I apologize for using that title today if it has caused any of you who are proof readers some distress. It was meant to say “This untied Church…”. My thesis is that “untied” is not a negative but a positive description of the activity of God in scripture and, therefor, a good thing for us to be. Almost sixty years ago, Herbert Butterfield, professor of history at Cambridge University wrote his Christianity and History – a book described by reviewers as “remarkable”! “at once simple and profound”, “clear and compelling”. After taking us on the long journey from “the church’s one foundation” to its flirting with empire, its wars and rumors of wars, its bitter rivalries, “warts and all”, he comes, on the last line of the last page, to this conclusion: “there are times when we cannot meet the future with sufficient elasticity of mind…. if we are locked in contemporary systems of thoughts. We can do worse than remember a principle which both gives us a firm rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity for our minds: hold to Christ and for the rest, be totally uncommitted.” He is calling for what one writer meant when he said, “I wouldn’t give anything for simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give everything for the simplicity the other side of complexity. Abraham and Sarah are our “God parents.” because they left home; they life what they knew and moved into the unknown. In the Prophecy of Jeremiah, the little kingdom of Noab is criticized, not for doing terrible things, but for “setting on its lees “, for “not being poured from vessel to vessel”, for being complacent and happy with the status quo. Garret Keizer, in April’s Christian CENTURY claims that “religious institutions…. have a way of existing for themselves as opposed to the purpose they claim to serve churches do it, colleges do it, even legislative bodies do it… lets do it,lets fall in love with our own structures.” Two weeks ago, in the Guardian, Rev. John Moses wrote “we in the church need to hear that much of what absorbs our time, energy, and money is of little interest to God and possibly is downright aggravating to God. We need to find our way back to the core message”. We need to be “untied”; to be committed to Christ, to hear again his plea that “Ut omnes unim sint” that all may be one – let us gather again at his table and make a fresh start.