Academic journal article International Review of Mission

"We Are Not Alone": Historical Journey of the United Church of Canada's Response to Become an Intercultural Church

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

"We Are Not Alone": Historical Journey of the United Church of Canada's Response to Become an Intercultural Church

Article excerpt

Abstract The 39th General Council of the United Church of Canada (2006) declared that the "church must be intercultural." The Ethnic Ministries Unit of the General Council proposed a vision for the church "where there is mutually respectful diversity and full and equitable participation of all Aboriginal, Francophone, ethnic minority, and ethnic majority constituencies in the total life, mission, and practices of the whole church ". (1) The vision of the church is that all people, regardless of their racial backgrounds, be invited to participate equally in the building of mutual relations in its life and work. The proposal is not the first in the history of the United Church of Canada (UCC) with the intention of improving meaningful relations among peoples of different cultural heritages. Many of the proposals presented over the years by various committees related to concerns raised by diverse ethnic communities within the church and intended to contribute toward building an inclusive faith community will be explored in this paper.

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The purpose of this paper is to examine selected historical sources relevant to the UCC's vision of becoming an intercultural church. I will explore the visions people of diverse cultural heritages had for the UCC and how the UCC developed policies relevant to peoples of diverse cultural heritages. I limit the research to the period from 1971, the year both the government policy on Canadian multiculturalism was declared and the Board of Home Missions (BHM) recommended the establishment of the Task Force on Minority Groups of European and Asiatic Origin within the then-new Division of Mission in Canada (DMC), (2) to 2006, the year the General Council declared that the UCC should become an intercultural church. However, beyond the limited research period, I go back to the Report of the Commission on World Mission approved at the 22nd

General Council of the UCC in 1966, because the report, the most extensive mission consultation in the history of the UCC, has become a foundation for its mission practice and interfaith dialogue. (3) Through this historical research I explore important issues such as racism, inclusiveness, diversity and multiculturalism and their implications for the UCC vision of becoming an intercultural church.

First, I explore how the UCC responded to the increasing reality of pluralism in Canada with the new Immigration Act of 1976. I then trace and analyze issues raised by ethnic ministries from 1980 to 1994. Finally, I examine the UCC Report on World Mission (1966) for its relevance to the UCC's vision of becoming an intercultural church.

The UCC's response to pluralism in Canada

The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was appointed in 1963 by Prime Minister Lester Pearson to recommend "what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of equal partnership between the founding races" (4) and also to include "the contribution made by other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution". (5) The Commission reported its sixteen recommendations in 1970 in Book IV: The Cultural Contribution of the Other Ethnic Groups. In its recommendations the Commission dealt with a variety of practical matters such as human rights legislation in all provinces, the teaching of languages other than English and French and multilingual broadcasting. (6)

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau responded to the recommendations of the Commission in two ways: on the one hand he accepted the recommendations, and on the other he went further to announce a new concept of multiculturalism. On 8 October 1971 in the House of Commons, he announced the implementation of a policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework: "Cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity. Every ethnic group has the right to preserve and develop its own culture and values within the Canadian context. …

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