Thursday, August 17, 2006

United Church of Canada discusses -- bottled water?

A number of years back, when I was in a state of flux about my faith and the Catholic congregation I belonged to refused to pay for my services as a church organist, I began seeking out churches who would offer money. So, for a time, I wound up an "adherent" (although not a full member) of a number of United Church of Canada and Presbyterian Church in Canada congregations. It's funny in a way because although I had been already confirmed a Roman Catholic and had no intention of ever converting to Protestantism, I found myself at home with what I viewed as being much more socially progressive groups; particularly on the issue of married clerics as well as the ordination of women.

Most of that time was with a Presbyterian church (about four years on a steady basis, followed by occasional contract work for several years after that) but my first foray was at a United Church for about three or four months. The people there were quite enthustiastic, and the minister made me feel quite at home -- and always had time to answer any questions I had even with his extremely busy schedule and an even more arduous "two church charge."

I never made mention of the fact that I was a bit uncomfortable with their position on gay and lesbian ministers, although I was a bit mollified by the fallback position that since a congregation hires and fires a minister (unlike the Catholic Church, where a bishop makes appointments) they could decide whether or not to accept a cleric who had come out. I did notice, however, they seemed to be a bit stagnant in terms of growth. Not too many baptisms, and I don't recall a wedding being held during my term there.

After my stint there and with the Presbyterian Church, I went back to the Catholic Church full time --as my services as an organist were no longer required and; as my mother had passed away, I felt no longer obligated to attend the city's "ethnic congregation," finding instead a neighbourhood church that found a way to buck the trend and rapidly grow its membership.

Churches, in general, have served the community for decades regardless of whether the people they help are members of their church or not. Certainly the most visible and successful in this regard has been the Salvation Army. But when one looks within, one begins to get a picture of whether any given congregation is sustainable in the long run.

The United Church, for example. About a year ago, I read an article (I can no longer find a link, sorry) that said that its membership is currently around 300,000 -- roughly the same as it was when it was founded in 1925 by the mergers of the Methodist and Congregationalist Churches of Canada, as well as about two-thirds of Presbyterian congregations. I found this a bit surprising, for not only is social justice a big part of its ethical code but it was at the forefront at ordaining women -- the first female ministers were called sometime during the Great Depression. I knew that its pro-gay stance put off some devoted members and even entire congregations who broke off from the church ... but it just didn't seem to make sense that its numbers would be stagnant.

Then yesterday, I heard a report on CBC Radio One that said at this year's conference in Thunder Bay, the delegates are considering a resolution to tell its members to stop buying bottled water; stating that water should be a right and not a privilege -- even though they are being catered by a university that is not equipped to serve tap water.

My take on this is somewhat different than Kathy Shaidle's, in that I believe water should be a public enterprise and not private. (Our experience here in Hamilton having our water system run by a scrap dealer, ENRON, and private water companies based in the UK and Germany -- in that order -- before it went public again is pretty instructive.) But I do agree with her that focusing on rather trivial issues like this is a meaningless exercise.

It's good to take public positions on social issues, and actually do work in the community to help the less fortunate (and in that respect I think the UCC is among those at the forefront -- for example, during an extremely tight period when both my mother and I were on welfare, we used their services when a local Catholic food bank had the chutzpah to turn us away). But bottled water? Shouldn't that be a personal decision? Besides, all the cola companies do is run city water through a filter five times -- you're better off getting your own pitcher and filter. Way cheaper!

Being the subject of ridicule and scorn by the MSM is just one reason why church memberships have in general across the board -- even in the Catholic Church. Nothing against the UCC, but aren't there more important issues -- like child poverty and AIDS? Or the inequity of our income tax structure; one that favours two income families over stay at home mothers and single parents? Or even the fact single people increasingly feel unwelcome in congregations that value families over free agents?

Tell me how to be a good Christian in my daily life, and as a single person who is just as important as a married couple with ten children, or one, or even none at all. Then -- and only then -- I might consider not drinking bottled water. Besides, the place where I work sells it to us agents at cost -- and when you're talking on the phone for nine hours a day, you need all you can get.

(Incidentally, Kathy offers her prayers for the wife of my fellow ProgBlogger Dr Dawg -- and so do I.)

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