I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. --John 17:20-21
On Thursday, October 28, I joined (virtually) with denominational leaders, mission agency executives and senior administrators at institutions of higher education for the Evangelical of Canada’s Presidents Day. For years, I have been the ecumenical observer to this body on behalf of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. This year, I had the added task of representing the PCC as the Moderator of the 146th General Assembly in June of 2021.
There were two items that caught my attention.
The first was hidden in the middle of survey material presented by Rick Hiemstra, the Director of Research for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Results were presented of surveys conducted in September of over 3,000 Canadian adults from a wide demographic.
The statistics related to church attendance before and during the pandemic were as expected. That is, there was a marked decline in church attendance across all Christian traditions, including Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and mainline affiliations. At first glance, one might conjecture that this did not include online attendance. But it did. While there was a significant number of people that joined their faith community virtually, all Christian traditions experienced significant disengagement—in person and online.
The surprise was that the so-called “Generation Z” was the least affected by this trend. Young people, it seemed, were less likely to check out from church. This is promising. Perhaps this was because of their familiarity with online streaming options. Whatever the reason, our young people logged in to virtual church. That’s encouraging.
The second was a report from the newly installed General Secretary & CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher. The WEA is an organization that claims over 600 million members. Dr. Schirrmacher made observations on the church across the continents and noted that a number of churches from the Caribbean recently moved their affiliation from the World Council of Churches to the World Evangelical Alliance.
Why? The issue of inclusion of LGBTQI believers in the WCC.
Dr. Schirrmacher did not seem particularly pleased with this growth in association with the large organization he leads. He recognized that the church universal is dealing with difficult decisions related to full inclusion.
I get it.
My church, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, recently changed its definition of marriage to allow two separate and equal definitions of marriage: between a man and a woman or between two adults. It also allowed for the ordination of LGBTQI persons (married or single). Although congregations are granted liberty of conscience, not all are happy. And yet, the PCC attempted to find a way for all to remain in fellowship. Time will tell. Indeed, even now, some on both sides of the fence are looking for new homes.
In the midst of these challenges affecting the church of Christ, Christ’s prayer for unity, which was made in the midst of growth and decline, is still pertinent: “that they may be one…”
May we pray the same today.
The Reverend Dr. Daniel D. Scott is the minister at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ontario, Canada, and an Associate Professor at Tyndale University in Toronto. He is the Moderator of the 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.