The United Church of Canada has major decisions to make. These involve matters of changing governance and discovering new ways of being the Church in the 21st century. Because some of these decisions will have impact on Congregations, the people are invited to come together and discuss these changes.
Thanks to everyone who attended the OPEN FORUM on REMITS in March 2017. Background Information referred to in that FORUM has been ADDED to the downloadable PDF section at the bottom of this page.
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So what in the world is a Remit?
In 1925 when the founding denominations (The Methodists Presbyterians, and Congregationalists) joined to form The United Church of Canada, they created a governing document called “The Basis of Union”. From that time on, if the church wants to make a change in the Basis of Union, the General Council must first approve a remit. The remit question is then put to the presbyteries and sometimes pastoral charges, which must approve it by absolute majority. (An absolute majority is a majority of all those entitled to vote and not just those who do vote). Any Pastoral Charge or Presbytery who chooses not to vote are automatically counted as a negative vote. If the vote is approved by the voting bodies, the third step is for the next General Council to also agree to the proposed change.
There are two distinct kinds of remits. Category 3 remits are those which will result in a significant change to the Basis of Union. They must be approved by both an absolute majority of pastoral charges and presbyteries, then by the next General Council. In comparison, category 2 remits are for proposals that will not bring significant changes to the Basis of Union. This might include minor wording changes or a change to an existing policy that is not substantive. They need only be approved by presbyteries and General Council.
Why Should I Care about Remits?
The proposed changes will directly impact congregations!
Remit 1, "The Three Council Model,"
- redefines congregations as "communities of faith" and outlines many aspects of how the communities will function, including membership, authority and responsibility, governance, spiritual life, ministry and other leadership.
Remit 2, "Elimination of Transfer and Settlement,"
- eliminates the option currently open to congregations to request a minister through the transfer and settlement process, and means each community of faith will be responsible for finding their own ministers through needs assessments and search committees.
Remit 3, "The Office of Vocation,"
- affects the standards of accreditation, oversight, and discipline of the ministers serving our congregations.
Remit 4, "Funding the New Model,"
- directly impacts how our donations to the United Church Mission and Service fund will be spent and how resources will be shared across the United Church.
Remit 6, "One Order of Ministry,"
- impacts the education and training ministers in our pulpits will receive.
Who Votes On A Remit?
While a remit must pass by an absolute majority of the presbyteries and or pastoral charges who are entitled to vote, within our own pastoral charge the vote needs only pass by a simple majority (50% plus 1) of those who are present and eligible.
However, in order for a vote to be legal there must be a quorum at the meeting. A quorum for any meeting of a Pastoral Charge which has more than 60 full members is 20 people. For Pastoral Charges with less than 60 full members the quorum is 1/3 of the membership.
Only United Church members can vote on a remit. People who may be on the Pastoral Charge Board but are not members can participate in the discussions but they may not vote on a remit.
Members must be present at the meeting in order to vote.
All members of the Order of Ministry (ministers) can vote on remits at the Presbytery level.
Ministers who have been called to a Pastoral Charge can vote at the Pastoral Charge level.
Other ministers such as retired ministers who may be a part of your Pastoral Charge may not vote at the Pastoral Charge level.
It is only the joint Pastoral Charge Board who is eligible to vote on a remit. They cannot delegate this responsibility to any other body, for instance, the congregation.
Voting would normally be by a show of hands unless the Board passes a motion to vote by secret ballot.
Brief Overview of Remits
Ever since its inception in 1925, The United Church of Canada has embraced change to better serve its members.
Pastoral charges - churches- are asked to vote on five remits:
1- Three Council Model,
2- Elimination of Transfer and Settlement,
3- Office of Vocation,
4- Funding a New Model, and
6- One Order of Ministry
Summary of Remits:
Remit 1 - Three Council Model: Current system has four courts, or levels, of church decision-making. Propose to reduce to three courts to create a workable church structure in the face of a declining volunteer base and financial resources. The proposal does not simply remove one of the existing courts, but replaces both of the current middle courts with a new regional council.
Remit 2 - Elimination of Transfer and Settlement: This has been optional since 2009 and very few have used it since then.
Remit 3 - Office of Vocation: Will consist of paid staff at General Council Office to deal with procedural and administrative matters and a board responsible for making decisions. This will ensure greater consistency in practice across the church.
Remit 4 - Funding a New Model: A consistent, revenue-based assessment formula would replace over 30 different formulas now in place. The revenue-based model is easiest to explain, more fairly recognizes the ability to pay, particularly for rural and smaller congregations, is transparent, and is externally verifiable
Remit 6 - One Order of Ministry: will create a single minimum pay scale for ministry personnel regardless if designated lay ministry, diaconal ministry, or ordained ministry. Each is distinctive but it is difficult to explain the differences and most congregations are more concerned about effective and faithful ministry leadership. Paid lay ministry will be renamed and will serve in relation to an ordained minister, focus on a limited spectrum of ministry leadership and not carry sole responsibility for congregational leadership. Therefore they will not be part of the order of ministry.
More details about the remits
REMIT 1: Three Council Model
This remit proposes a major change to the structure of The United Church of Canada.
Currently we have four courts, or levels, of church decision-making structure: pastoral charges, presbyteries, Conferences and General Council. It is proposed that the church have three councils, or levels, with specific ministries and responsibilities. The proposal does not simply remove one of the existing courts, but replaces both of the current middle courts with a new regional council.
The intent of this reorganization is to create a sustainable and workable church structure in the face of a declining volunteer base and financial resources.
Alongside the three councils, there will be “clusters and networks”. These will not be formal governance bodies but organically formed communities of common interests, mission, and support.
Staff for the regions will be deployed regionally, as they are now, but given the financial framework recognized by the Comprehensive Review Task Group it is likely most regional staff will serve more than one region.
Communities of Faith (currently “pastoral charges”)
Regional Councils (currently “presbyteries” and “conferences”)
Denominational Council (currently “General Council”)
plus various clusters and/or networks within the councils.
Additional notes: REMIT #1 - STRUCTURE
This remit is about CHURCH STRUCTURE. The United Church has four “courts” of structure.
1. The Congregation: The congregation has a great deal of freedom to organize their worship, plan their outreach, and interface with the broader community.
2. Presbytery: There are 88 or 89 Presbyteries in Canada. They oversee congregational peace, welfare, buildings and money.
3. Conference: There are 10 or 11 Conferences and an All Native Circle Conference. They are closely aligned with Provincial boundaries, except for the Peace Region and the Yukon. They have generalized oversight of the Presbytery and also are in charge of ordination.
4. General Council: General Council is responsible for the establishment of doctrine, general church policy and outreach.
In the 1960, the United Church had approximately 1,000,000 members and at present has about 400,000 members. Societal changes in the role of women have been a contributing factor to the inability of church committees and Presbytery committees to do the work required in the same fashion. The work and the skill set needed are more complicated, particularly in Personnel matters.
The proposal is to eliminate the Presbytery level. Oversight activities such as the Personnel and Property tasks would be moved into the Conference level as they have the money and the training to handle these issues.
Congregations would be invited to form “clusters” to deal with congregational and ministerial support and visioning. It is felt that this will maximize freedom for congregations to pursue their call. A number of other support organizations or networks, such as the UCW, the gay/lesbian constituency and the United Church Committee for Palestinian Justice are already in place.
REMIT 2: Elimination of Transfer and Settlement
Since the 40th General Council in 2009, transfer and settlement has been optional for candidates for ordination and commissioning. Since transfer and settlement became an option, fewer candidates have chosen to be settled. In 2015 only one minister and no candidates chose transfer and settlement; all of the other candidates across the church chose to search for their own calls or appointments. Only two pastoral charges requested settlement in 2015.
Communities of faith (pastoral charges, congregations, presbytery-accountable ministries, missions, outreach ministries, presbytery-recognized ministries, etc.) will have to find their own ministers through their needs assessment and search committees. All members of the order of ministry will seek their own calls, assisted by tools at the Conference/regional level.
Settlement and Transfer committees will no longer exist, meaning fewer volunteers will be needed, and calls made by communities of faith and presbyteries will no longer have to be approved by Settlement Committees.
Eliminating transfer and settlement may make it more difficult for communities of faith that have traditionally relied on this system for ordered ministers. However, since transfer and settlement became optional for candidates in 2009, very few candidates have been available through the settlement process because very few are choosing to be settled, even with incentives. At the same time, fewer pastoral charges are requesting settlement.
REMIT 3: Office of Vocation
A new working unit called the Office of Vocation would be created at the General Council Office. Numerous volunteer committees would cease to exist in all four courts of the church, and staff time at the Conference and presbytery levels would be used more effectively.
The Office of Vocation would consist of paid staff as well as a Board of Vocation with equal numbers of elected ministers and lay people. The staff would deal with procedural and administrative matters. The Board of Vocation would be responsible for making decisions. These changes will ensure greater consistency in practice across the church.
Candidates for the order of ministry would continue to be accompanied and interviewed by volunteers on the regional assessment boards. If Remit No. 1: Three-Court Model passes, creating regional councils, fewer volunteers will be needed at the regional levels.
REMIT 4: Funding a New Model
This remit would approve giving the General Council the power to assess pastoral charges to cover the costs of governance and support services for the denomination.
Currently, presbyteries have the power to assess pastoral charges to cover their expenses. Conferences also have the power to assess, and their funding comes from the assessments as well as grants from the General Council. These grants are funded through Mission & Service (M&S) as well as from other donations. The General Council does NOT currently have the power to assess, so its costs are covered by M&S donations, investment revenues from funds held in reserve and donations.
This remit proposes a single assessment model to fund the General Council (or Denominational Council, if Remit 1 passes) and regional levels of the church that will be both more equitable and transparent. If approved, it would mean that governance and associated support services at all levels of the church, beyond the local pastoral charges, would be funded through assessments.
A consistent, revenue-based assessment formula—first proposed to General Council by Manitou Conference—would replace over 30 different formulas now in place. The revenue-based model was approved by the General Council Executive because it:
• is easiest to explain
• more fairly recognizes the ability to pay, particularly for rural and smaller congregations
• is transparent
• is externally verifiable
Presbyteries currently use various permutations based on operating cost, membership, number of donors, households, and so on. Newfoundland and Labrador Conference and a few presbyteries have already moved to a revenue-based formula. In-depth analysis suggests that revenue is a fairer measure of ability to pay, and is fairer to smaller and more rural settings. A standard formula is more transparent and easier to explain.
The work of The United Church of Canada across the country and around the world is currently funded by M&S. Most of this funding comes from voluntary gifts (members, adherents or estate gifts). M&S funds programs delivered by General Council Office staff as well as associated common office services, grants for community ministries, chaplaincies, pastoral charges in need of support, plus grants for running the Conferences.
Switching to an assessment method would make a clear distinction between funds used for the governance of the church and those used for M&S. Donations to M&S will only be used for mission and ministry expenditures made regionally or nationally, including grants to global partners and community ministries in Canada.
Considering how vital M&S is to this church, it can be hoped that congregations or donors do not choose to decrease M&S donations in order to pay for a higher assessment. The clearer purpose for M&S may also attract new and younger donors.
Additional notes: REMIT #2 –THE MONEY
At present, the national structure of the United Church of Canada does not have a “tax” system to fund the national “court”. The administration is funded from the Missionary & Service fund. However, Presbytery can be taxed by Conference and the money raised in this way is now split between Conference and Presbytery.
This remit proposes that in the future, Missionary and Service funds shall be used only for outreach. It is hoped that once members realize that M&S is used only for outreach that giving in that category will increase. Under this plan, the National church will be able to tax congregations and then this single tax will be split between the National church and Conference.
The amount a congregation RAISES will be the basis for the tax. Bequests, M&S, Trusts, and the sale of real estate will not be taxed.
The proposed tax rate is ~4.5%. This figure will ease in over 3 to 5 years, and the assessment will not go up more than 10% in any one year.
REMIT 6: One Order of Ministry
While each is distinctive in definition and history, several task groups have identified the difficulty in distinguishing among the various streams of ministry in the United Church; in particular, explaining the functional difference among designated lay ministry, diaconal ministry, and ordained ministry. Moreover, various surveys have pointed to congregations not being concerned about the differences among the various streams of ministry, but rather deeply concerned about effective and faithful ministry leadership.
The reality on the ground is that each stream is commonly appointed or called to similar functions in solo pastoral ministry leadership, including the sacraments. Recent proposals for authorizing diaconal ministers for the sacraments as a rite of commissioning have further minimized distinctions. Most diaconal and designated lay ministers are already authorized by their Conferences for the sacraments. In relation to designated lay ministry, the word “lay” is often misunderstood.
Generally there seems to be limited understanding among United Church members of the differences among the three streams of ministry. For most people in the pews, there is little difference, provided the leadership they receive is capable, faithful, and effective.
The One Order proposal will create a single minimum pay scale for ministry personnel. In the current financial situation of many churches, the lower minimum salary of designated lay ministers can offer an incentive to choose the less-expensive option. A minimum salary scale for all ministers offers greater equity and encourages congregations to look at the gifts of ministry they need, rather than a pay category.
There will continue to be an expression of paid lay ministry called congregational designated ministry (CDM). CDMs will be accountable to their community of faith, which will have full employment responsibility within established guidelines. CDMs will always serve in relation to an ordained minister (or candidate), focus on a limited spectrum of ministry leadership, and not carry sole responsibility for congregational leadership. Therefore they will not be part of the order of ministry.
For study guides, webinars, frequently asked questions, and more information please visit http://www.gc42.ca/remits