Canada’s biggest Protestant church is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary but Canada Post has turned down the church’s request for a commemorative stamp to be issued to honour the event.
The three-million member United Church of Canada was established in 1925 by a merger of Canada’s Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations. The founding of the United Church was also the world’s first union of churches from different founding backgrounds.
Peter Wyatt, a United Church pastor and staff person assisting the church’s 75th anniversary committee, said he was shocked and disappointed that such a significant event in the history of ecumenism was being ignored by Canada’s post office.
It was ironic, Mr. Wyatt said, that the post office had already approved for this year a stamp to honour the quinquennial (five-yearly) international meeting of Seventh Day Adventists in Toronto in early July.
“We don’t understand why,” Mr. Wyatt said. “We don’t object to the Adventists getting a stamp – that is great for them – we just can’t figure out why we are not.
“The object of this exercise was to figure out how the celebration, which is otherwise internal to the church and its congregations, could actually have a modest impact on the society at large. We do know that there are lots of people who are not church people or are not adherents or members of the UCC who nonetheless celebrate what the UCC has meant for Canadian culture, and that we continue to appear in literature and continue to be newsworthy to the secular press.
“The 75th anniversary committee envisioned thousands of church members and adherents celebrating the formation of the United Church by purchasing and using an anniversary stamp,” Mr. Wyatt said.
Canada Post is issuing stamps this year for the 100th anniversary of the federal department of labour, for a gathering of tall ships in Halifax, and for the achievements of a prominent engineer, as well as stamps featuring unique rural mailboxes.
The United Church committee’s hopes had been raised and dashed again and again, Mr. Wyatt said. “We had our request in about 18 months before the stamp advisory committee met in December of 1999. We were turned down. I finally got through by phone to the chair of the (federal government’s) Stamp Advisory Committee (Andre Ouellet).
“I had the feeling that neither he nor the current members of the committee had a good feel for the significance and history of the United Church as an ecumenical breakthrough and as a uniquely Canadian institution. So (Mr. Oeullet) invited me to send in some supporting information. I sent a three-and-a-half page letter. After that we heard that we were definitely going to be considered afresh.
“One of the people responsible for developing the designs actually paid a flying visit to the offices here, spoke to one of our graphics people and asked that our graphics department submit a design, which we did,” Mr. Wyatt said. “It was that design that seems to have been turned down. We met all of the criteria that this guy said would be significant to philatelists and others.
“We are flabbergasted.”
Canada Post finally said there was no time to design a stamp.
In a United Church news statement, Mr. Wyatt added that his response to the treatment accorded the church might best be explained by a photo he has in his files of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien unveiling a stamp to commemorate 100 years of the Sikh religion in Canada. “The United Church has been a pioneer in inter-faith education and dialogue, and we applaud the honouring of the Sikh religion in Canada,” Mr. Wyatt said. However, “why, in comparison, has a home-grown institution been treated so shabbily?