Books honour 75 years of United Church

Published May 1, 2000

HERE ARE two books – one for adults, the other for children – honouring the 75th anniversary of the 1925 union that formed the United Church of Canada, being celebrated in May. While aimed primarily at a United Church readership, others will find them useful in understanding where Canada’s second-largest denomination is coming from.

Fire and Grace is a series of 34 essays on major issues and events in United Church history, from the controversies leading up to union, through the evolving place of women, to gay/lesbian ordination and Indian residential schools. One, on stewardship, would bear reading by any person of any denomination involved in financial development. Through them all runs a thread of commitment to ecumenical and interfaith involvement and social justice. Its pages are enlivened by short first person vignettes showing how decisions and actions affected rank and file members.

[pullquote] The Painted Trunk uses the device of unpacking a wonderful painted trunk in Grandma’s attic to enable two children to discover key moments of church history -duplicating many of the issues covered in Fire and Grace for the six to 11 set. The tales capitalize on kids’ interest in curiosities from the past and their willingness to question an approachable adult.

Each story is enriched through a useful Facts Behind the Story section at the end giving older readers background information for better interpretation. Also provided is a concise time line of United Church history – something which would also have benefited Fire and Grace.

Each book offers an accessible, informative and enjoyable look at the 75-year lifespan of the United Church. But I was left unsatisfied: it is too easy to infer from both books that church history really began just 75 years ago. Where is the richness of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist heritage brought together in Church Union? Beyond that, where is the inheritance of the whole 1925 years of Christianity those groups carried into union?

But then, we must remember that the United Church – in the words of one essayist in Fire and Grace – is “a peculiarly Canadian invention: the open and inviting company of Jesus that holds its faith lightly, believes in ecumenical inclusivity almost as much as it believes in God…” William Portman is the book review editor for the Anglican Journal.


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