(Vancouver, ©TFN) A disaffected branch of the United Church of Canada has voted to join a Humanist association in reaction to ongoing disputes within its national executive around social issues. At least three churches in Canada have ratified their merging with Humanism this year, and more may follow.
The process began when a downtown Vancouver church with less than a hundred members struggled with severe funding and vandalism problems, and offered its historic church for sale to clear its debts. A Vancouver Humanist group that had been leasing premises inquired, and instead of purchasing the church agreed to merge the two congregations and to assume the church’s overhead. Its name has been changed to The Humanist Church and the arrangement is attracting increasing interest across Canada.
“It’s been a wonderful experience.” observes Martin McGlade, who convinced his local Humanist chapter that they had much to learn from traditional religion. “Most Humanists are atheists or agnostics at best, but we have always lacked true community, ceremony or a sense of destiny and belonging. We are learning here that tradition and ritual are fulfilling to our membership, and at the same time our Humanist philosophy is becoming accepted by the older congregation.”
In addition to rescuing a Vancouver landmark from possible demolition, the Humanist group has retained the church’s pastor and staff for continuity, and to teach them church operations and procedures. After its exposure on national television, two other churches in Toronto and Ottawa are now sharing premises and expenses with local Humanists.
Pastor John Meagher of Ottawa’s Humanist Church commented that “Christian and Humanist ethics are almost identical, and we are learning from each other that liberal Christianity and an inclusive Humanism have much to share and to teach each other.”
Meagher foresees more churches merging with Humanists. “When Martin Luther initiated the Reformation, it began as heresy, as some might view our merger. The young people I speak to now want to discuss life and our species and our planet, and leave heaven and hell to the fundamentalists. Our existing congregation did not find that a barrier at all.”
The Humanist Society of Canada is rumored to be discussing a nation-wide merger with a group of churches from various Protestant faiths, many of them in decline and fraught with disputes over the ordination of women or gay marriage.
Humanist Society spokesperson Mary Duchene relishes the idea of establishing at least one church in every city. “We have enough Humanists per city to keep at least one church full and financially healthy, and our collective Humanism is proving more acceptable than simple atheism.” she said.
“Humanists affirm their relationship with Humans, with our planet and species governance the key issues. Many people embracing Humanism agree that we must fully respect what the traditional churches have carried to us. Many realize that we are already in ‘heaven’, enjoying life and our Earth, and the older people are finding that intriguing as well, everybody is a little wiser and more comfortable.”