The 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada meeting in Corner Brook, NL, in August 2015 passed motions in response to a denomination-shaping report called “The Comprehensive Review.” The motions mandated fundamental changes in the church’s polity by moving from four judicatories to three, instituting an “Office of Vocations” at the General Council, and several other structural changes that will affect the way members and congregations engage in the wider church. Eight of the decisions required remits needing the approval of congregations and/or presbyteries. The future of presbyteries is most affected by remit #1, the three-council model, which eliminates presbyteries and Conferences within the church’s structure and introduces a new middle judicatory called a “regional council.” Remit #1 has received the necessary approvals and will be presented to the 43rd General Council in August 2018 to be enacted.

In anticipation of the elimination of the Conference/presbytery model and the establishment of regional councils, the Comprehensive Review also included an instruction for the formation of clusters and networks of communities of faith within the regions:
Alongside the three-council structure, there would also be:

  • clusters: local clusters of communities of faith that would provide community and support for communities of faith and their leaders, and focus on worship, mission, learning, collegiality, and strategic planning; and
  • networks: linking people working on specific issues (e.g. supportive housing, intercultural ministry, youth ministry) or for project work (e.g. event planning) that function through the whole church, depending on the issue. Although the clusters and networks would not be formal governance bodies, they would be central to the living out of our faith.
Living Waters Presbytery has decided to initiate the process of developing faith community clusters in anticipation of the winding up of the presbytery and inauguration of a regional council in January, 2019. A report (July 16, 2017) proposes “…that LW create the potential to assist in the development of a cluster approach that will be able to transition easily to Regional Councils … Development of a cluster approach will be invitational and available to those congregations that see the benefit for the future. Development of clusters is not expected to be mandatory.” Reflecting on the General Council proposal to create clusters to replace some of the value currently provided by presbyteries, the “elephant in the room” question is: what evidence is there that a cluster model will work more effectively than the current presbytery model? Is it safe to assume that if a cluster model is merely a reorganization of members of presbytery, then we should not expect anything new? Or, as Terry Davies remarked in the minutes of a recent meeting, we don’t want a “mini resourced presbytery”. Indeed.

But what if we explored a new way of collaboration, networking and mutuality among communities of faith? What if we began by asking “What can we do together that we can’t do alone?” What if a broader sharing of gifts and resources created a culture of abundance rather than scarcity? What if engagement in community, mission, ministry and partnership involved many voices rather than a few “representatives?” Both our belief and our experience in other parts of the church suggests that engaging the practices of the Hosting Sacred Conversations method can lead to a harvest of positive outcomes for Living Waters as it embraces this opportunity.

From now until Dec 31 2018, Joe and Allan, using theHosting Sacred Conversations method, will be working with Living Waters Presbytery to host conversations, harvest outcomes and provide consultation to the projects and collaborative initiatives that emerge over the months ahead.