Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Amalgamation of congregations in Edmonton provides more evidence of the continuing decline of the United Church of Canada

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. II Timothy 3:5

As reported by Gordon Kent in the Edmonton Journal, September 29, 2016 (bold, link in original):

Two United Church buildings are being sold and four congregations have merged in another sign of the challenges Edmonton religious institutions face surviving in mature neighbourhoods.

South Edmonton members of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination say they needed to take steps to deal with aging facilities and shrinking numbers.

“Dwindling congregation members bring in less money. It makes it harder for us to meet all our monthly expenses,” Pleasantview United Church board chairperson Pat Williams says.

“Over the last seven years, things have just progressed to the point where we found it’s no longer viable for us to try to function on our own.”

Pleasantview and Ritchie United Churches closed and started worshipping jointly with colleagues at Avonmore United Church last January following two years’ of discussions.

Knox-Metropolitan United Church joined them in July.

They’re meeting at the Avonmore church, 7909 82 Ave., under the banner of the United on Whyte Pastoral Charge, although Williams says the name could change by the time work to form a single organization out of the four separate legal entities is completed.

Pleasantview’s head count on a typical Sunday had dropped to 25 to 30 people before they closed the building’s doors, she says.

She remembers multiple choirs, golf nights, potluck dinners and other popular social events during the vibrant days when she joined Pleasantview United, 10672 62 Ave., more than 25 years ago.

By the end, the youth group was only composed of a few university students.

“It’s going on throughout churches everywhere,” Williams says.

“We went from a church that had lots of family-oriented things … to where there were just so few people who were interested in that.”

Different religions, same problem

The problems at Pleasantview, opened in 1953, are shared by mainstream churches across Canada. Only 27 per cent of Canadians identified themselves as Protestant in 2011, down from 41 per cent 40 years earlier, and the number of Roman Catholics and Anglicans also declined.

Over the past 15 years, nine of about 45 Catholic parishes in the greater Edmonton area have shut down and merged with their neighbours, says Lorraine Turchansky, communications director for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

There are also two sets of twinned churches, each served by the same office staff and a single pastor.

“In the case of some of the older parishes, it’s not unlike what we see happening with the schools, where the population is aging (and) the parish population is diminishing,” Turchansky says.

“We find that in the newer neighbourhoods it’s the opposite, where the population is much younger and growing.”

Three new Catholic churches have been constructed over the same period, mainly large structures in the suburbs where the congregation is more likely to drive than walk.

For example, Corpus Christi, opened this year in Mill Woods, has pews for 1,500 and cost $16 million to build.

“If you want to call it a catchment area, like you would with a school, people from a wider area would go to those churches now,” Turchansky says.

“It’s fairly expensive to build churches, so we have to keep than in mind as well … There are economies of scale to be considered.”

Although the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton says it’s doing well and isn’t expecting to shut any local churches, it was forced to sell crumbling St. Stephen’s on 96 Street six years ago.

Merging four churches into one is a first in Canada

Amalgamating United Church parishes isn’t unusual — 10 churches were initially part of the discussions about how to remain viable.

But Pleasantview’s Williams says four of the denomination’s congregations have never been combined in Canada before, so the national organization is watching the results.

“It’s an interesting experience to meld first of all three, and then a fourth one, but it’s an exciting experience. We’re burning a path, I guess, for the United Church. We have a lot of eyes on us to see how this works.”

An offer from a developer is pending on the Pleasantview half-acre property, listed for sale at $1.6 million.

Trustees have also accepted a developer’s conditional offer for 73-year-old Knox-Metropolitan church, 8307 109 St., which has an asking price of $4.2 million.

Proceeds from these two deals will be held locally in a special “futures fund” to help others in the city. While details are still being worked out, the fund is intended to continue the legacy of the four congregations, says Susan Bramm, vice-chairperson of the Knox-Metropolitan board.

The Ritchie site, 9624 74 Ave., isn’t being sold. It was transferred to the growing Edmonton Korean United Church, which is moving out of Avonmore, the newest of the four structures.

“There are certainly some uncertainties, particularly those people for whom getting to the location had already posed a challenge,” she says, estimating 80 to 100 members went to weekly services in the 300-seat church before it closed in June.

“This provided an opportunity for them to explore opportunities closer to their home.”

About 100 to 120 people now attend United on Whyte.

Furniture, hymn books, a baptismal font and other precious items from each facility are being taken to Avonmore to maintain links with the past.

This includes five of Knox-Metropolitan’s 29 stained glass windows — others are for sale or already have purchasers, such as the beautiful floral octagon facing 109 Street bought for $7,000 for a St. Albert United Church being constructed in 2018.

While Bramm says there’s grieving, she thinks the move was for the best.

“It’s really about the future … Look at it as a unique opportunity to come together with a common purpose and vision.”

Pleasantview’s Williams agrees there weren’t any options.

“Personally, I’m sad to leave my building, I’m sad to have lost a lot of our church family going in different directions, but I’m finding it really exciting,” she says.

“It’s nice to go where there are children. We haven’t had young children for Sunday school for a long time.”
And as reported by Rachel Ward in the Edmonton Journal, September 13, 2015:

Shrinking congregations and coffers have prompted members of five United churches near Whyte Avenue to consider coming together in one building.

Kevin Gue, treasurer for Knox-Metropolitan United Church on 109th Street, said his congregation will meet Oct. 4 to vote on what to do with its 75-year-old building and its octagonal stained glass windows. It is not a heritage building, he said.

“This is a massive piece of infrastructure that’s aging,” Gue said after Sunday service. “Do you apply more money to an old, aging building or do you apply it to programming and ministry?”

The other churches are Pleasantview United Church on 62nd Avenue, Ritchie United Church on 74th Avenue and Avonmore United Church, which shares a Whyte Avenue building with Edmonton Korean United Church. Knox-Metropolitan representatives spoke Sunday on behalf of the churches through the South Side Churches Joint Planning Council.

This “innovative” idea of all the churches relocating into one building could free up scarce resources, Gue said, and help them focus on further developing faith and social justice.

“As long as we’re fixing the roof, we’re not doing that,” he said.

The church is “making ends meet,” Knox-Metropolitan board co-chairwoman Cathy Martin said, but “it’s probably not going to be sustainable for the long term.”

The church cut a youth worker job and warned in its last annual report the reserve fund would be depleted in four years. In recent years it also paid about $30,000 to re-enforce the gymnasium roof and about $5,000 to repair the outside stucco siding, she said.

They’re starting to plan now while the finances are stable, she said.

“With any change, there’s excitement and anxiety,” Martin said. “But the thing is, we get to decide how we handle that.”

The five churches hope to have a decision by January 2016, a deadline Martin said her congregation fully supports.

“Their legacy is much more than a building,” Martin said of the congregation that dates back to 1892. “Their legacy has been their faith.”
The recent events come as no surprise to this blogger, and are a continuation of a half-century of decline for the United Church of Canada, whose membership peaked in 1965. The United Church began losing members within a couple of years of introducing a new Sunday School Curriculum; see my post 50 years ago: United Church of Canada unveils Sunday School curriculum denying the truth of the Bible (August 1, 2014).

50 years ago: The Apollo 1 fire, and an astronaut's last words

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

Apollo 1, the first U.S. manned space mission with a three-man crew, was scheduled to lift off from Cape Kennedy, Florida on February 21, 1967. On the afternoon of January 27, the crew--Gus Grissom (Commander); Ed White (Senior Pilot); and Roger Chaffee (Pilot)--entered the spacecraft for one of the mission's final pre-launch tests. The test was not going well, with communications between the spacecraft and ground crews being just one of the problems. The test was about 10 minutes away from completion when a fire suddenly swept through the spacecraft. The crew began procedures to get out, but were killed in seconds; read the details here and here.

The audio recording of the last half hour of Apollo 1 has been posted on YouTube:

I began following the space program a couple of years after the Apollo 1 fire, and the astronauts, including those whose feats I was too young to remember, were my heroes. Gus Grissom was one of the original seven astronauts, and the second American to fly in space. Chief of the Astronaut Office Deke Slayton, who was in charge of flight assignments said in his autobiography Deke! (1994) that if Mr. Grissom hadn't perished in the fire, he may well have been the first man to walk on the moon. I still have great respect for Mr. Grissom's accomplishments, but it grieves me that his last words included the use of the name of Jesus Christ--as an obscenity (at about 28:56 in the video above). Less than a minute later, Gus Grissom and his crewmates were dead.

50 years ago: Soviet newspaper denounces the continuing survival of religion

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Psalms 14:1a (also Psalms 53:1a)

For those not old enough to remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Pravda (which still exists today) was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. From the same section of The Edmonton Journal of January 14, 1967, that published the items in the post below (bold in original):

Pravda Urges More Atheism

MOSCOW (AP)--Pravda calls for an increased struggle against "religious survival" in this 50th year of Communist power.
50 years later, the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. is now 25 years in the past, while "religious survival" continues.

Monday, 30 January 2017

50 years ago: Newspaper religion pages record increasing ecumenism

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
II Corinthians 6:14-17

Submitted for your approval: A few items from the religion pages of The Edmonton Journal of Saturday, January 14, 1967, to remind the reader that the ecumenical movement toward the religion of Antichrist has been going on for a long time (bold, italics in original).

Christian Unity Prayer Service

Members Of All Major Faiths Will Participate In City

Members of every major Christian faith will converge on the Jubilee Auditorium Wednesday for the most comprehensive ecumenical prayer service ever held in Edmonton.

The service sponsored jointly by the Edmonton and District Council of Churches and the weekly newspaper, Western Catholic Reporter, marks the opening of the world-wide week of prayer for Christian unity.

One way to further this unity is to pray together, according to Rev. Brian Brown, president of the Edmonton and District Council of Churches.

Mr. Brown said there must be a spirit of co-operation among Christians before church unity can be realized, but it must involve individuals as well as the hierarchies of their churches.


"The only way this can be accomplished is by getting to know each other and to Pray together."

Dr. C.F. Johnston of St. Stephen's College and chairman of the Council's inter-church committee, said the prayer service comes at a very appropriate time.

He said Canadians now are facing their second century, "a time of great challenge and promise for the future." Christians are being called on as one to serve Canada and the world, he said.

An important aspect of the service is the fact that two laymen are the only speakers, said Dr. Johnston.

They are Murray Stewart, president of Northwestern Utilities, Ltd., and an elder at Metropolitan United Church, and Ald. James Bateman, businessman and member of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic parish.

Clergy of several denominations, two bishops, and a nurse are also participating in the service, which begins at 8 p.m.

Douglas J. Roche, editor of the Western Catholic Reporter, said the paper was helping to sponsor the combined prayer service as a celebration of the admission of the Roman Catholic archdiocese to the Council of Churches as an associate member.

The Edmonton archdiocese is the only one in Canada which has joined the local council of churches.
Metropolitan United Church later amalgamated with Knox United Church to become Knox-Metropolitan United Church. Symptomatic of the decline of apostate mainline Protestant churches (and the subject of this post), Knox-Metropolitan merged with three other churches in July 2016 to become United on Whyte. Mr. Roche, a Progressive Conservative (and a lot more "Progressive" than "Conservative"), sat in the Canadian House of Commons from 1972-1994 and in the Senate from 1998-2004.
Suggestions Sought On Vietnam Pray-In
The Edmonton and District Council of Churches would like suggestions on what form a Vietnam pray-in might take.

Rev. B.L. Brown, president of the Council, said the council found itself in some confusion about the meaning of pray-in when the idea was put before Tuesday's meeting.

"All clergy pray for peace, so we can't send out a notice saying 'Pray for peace'."


The question will go to a committee, he said.

"We would like something the laity could take part in. Perhaps a service of prayer for peace. Something meaningful, sincere and quiet.

"The pray-in should be meaningful to young people, who feel, rightly, that we're all concerned in this war."

The council would not just pray that the U.S. get out of Vietnam, but that the fighting on both sides should end.
Christian Pavilion To Stay

MONTREAL (CP)--The Christian Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal world's fair may be maintained as a permanent exhibition after the fair closes.

Rev. Louis Fosey-Foley, director of Credo, a French-language publication of the United Church, told a press conference the permanent status of the pavilion has been discussed by church officials.

Seven Canadian churches are interested in the project.

The pavilion, expected to cost about $1,300,000, is sponsored by the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and Greek Orthodox churches and the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada.
Churchmen To Launch Magazine

TORONTO (CP)--Two dozen churchmen of different faiths have decided to set up a theological magazine to help crate understanding of each other's views.

The group includes Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Anglican and United Church clergy and laity.

Rev. A.C. Forrest, editor of the United Church Observer, who initiated the project, says that through such a magazine "we could talk to one another and listen to one another."

The monthly magazine will "publish expressions of opinion, sincerely held, honestly documented and forthrightly written, from as many areas of religious life as possible."

Catholic layman Paul Harris, another supporter, says "a clash of opinion is helpful, so the magazine will likely be controversial."
Catholics Lift Ban On 'Y' Membership

NEW YORK (AP)--Roman Catholicism's long-standing ban against membership in the Young Men's and Women's Christian Associations appears headed for a quiet demise in the United States.

It already has been specifically rescinded in some dioceses.


Numerous Catholic appraisals lately have expressed an approving view of participation in the YMCA and YWCA.

"Indications of the change are coming from all around the country," said J.H. Pisarro, of the national YMCA office. "It's a kind of de facto thing, developing more and more extensively.

Lifting the ban last fall in New Orleans, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan praised the Ys for their community service, and said Catholics were permitted to join.

He said the step was aimed at strengthening fraternal relationships, and that the Ys seek to uphold Christianity in its "generic sense" and not as a particularly Protestant group.

In a similar action in New Mexico, a spokesman for Santa Fe's Archbishop James Peter Davis said: "The programs of the YMCA can help make of a good Baptist a better one, and a good Catholic a better one."

The ban against Catholic membership in the Ys dates back to a Vatican directive of 1920, when Ys were largely Protestant in orientation.
New Sign Of Ecumenical Age

DALLAS, TEXAS (AP)--At the international assembly of the Christian Churches (Disciples), the list of principal speakers included as many churchmen from outside the denomination as in it, including two Roman Catholics, one Orthodox, four Baptist and three Methodists.