May 6, 2018 – 6th Sunday of Easter – Year B
Imagine that you are a peace dove or a tiny angel sitting on the shoulder of one of our Ministers of the 1960’s. You are in the office of Rev. R. C. (Bob) Gates 1958-1965, Associate Minister Rev. U. Schuetz 1961-1964, Associate Minister Rev. R.J. Moore 1964-1965 (we have no picture for he was here but a single year), Rev. J. L. Cronin 1965-1970, and Associate Minister Rev. R.W. Reid 1968-1970. They are in their office reflecting on what the church will be like in 50 years. Do you think they could even imagine what today’s church is like? No more having the minister chair the Official Board (now called the Council) meetings. More than 70% of United Church Ministers are women – not so in the 1960’s. The Red Hymn Book was radical in 1961 when it was published, but nothing like Voices United in 2007. The church budget for 1961 was almost $30,000, a 20% increase on the amount spent in 1960. The Mission and Service objective for the year was $7,500. Todays budget is over $100,00 and an M&S objective of $15,000.
A proposal for an Associate Minister in 1960 included annual salary of $4000, housing allowance $1500 and Travel $500. Total sum to be shared on the basis of Penticton $4000, Oliver $1500 and Okanagan Falls $500. There was some difficulty in raising the whole housing allowance despite urgings from Presbytery to abide by these standard conditions.
A discussion was held in a March 1961 board meeting to have male greeters at the door. In a politically incorrect turn of phrase men were ”to be over and above the present lady greeters.” I think they meant to say that they were not going to diminish the role or number of female greeters.
One of the highlights nationally in the church occurred in 1962 where the United Church Women (UCW) were formed by the union of the Woman’s Association and the Woman’s Missionary Society and things have never been the same again! We give thanks for the impressive ministry of the women.
Vigorous activity with youth was apparent throughout the decade. Alma Wilson reported on the formation of a Brownie Pack at PUC in 1962 ‘complete with a large wooden Toadstool that stood in the centre of the Brownie Ring’.
Nationally, Sunday school population peaked in 1961 at more than 750,000 young Canadians. From this year, declining Sunday school populations subsequently reached less than 180,000 across the country (a 23% decrease) by 1993.
The first Sunday School curriculum developed entirely in Canada was the United Church’s ‘ New Curriculum of 1963.’ It was attacked in the media by conservative denominations as being too liberal and ended co-operation between the United and Baptist churches. It was widely praised by educators and theologians and copied in varying degrees by the Anglicans. This curriculum had the audacity to suggest that some of the stories in scripture were tales and myths. This was the first time that a curriculum spoke in such a strong liberal voice. Thousands of “Baby Boomers” were raised on this information and continue to be shaped by this early foundation.
Proposals for a second Penticton United Church south of the Creek on Main Street were set aside after sale of the earlier acquired property on Green Avenue. The Waterford property was also disposed of in the late 60’s for $4,500. Instead extensive ($110,000) alterations were proposed for the Sanctuary and the Christian Education wing in 1966.
There were obvious indications of strong church activities in the mid 1960’s. In the first 6 months of 1964 there were 38 Baptisms, 28 Weddings and 24 funerals. Despite this, concerns began to emerge about declining membership as in 1966, for the first time since Union, national church membership declined by about 2,000 members.
In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, an excellent Carillon service was performed on New years eve by Mrs. McGall. It was proudly noted that Penticton United Church was the only church in Penticton that was able to usher in Canada’s Centennial year in such a fashion. In the same year, in a demonstration of the power of the Centennial dollar, a generous, anonymous gift from a member of the congregation was able to provide three students in Hong Kong with full high school education for three years.
In another sign that the more things change the more they remain the same, in Penticton declines in participation and donations created financial issues throughout the 1960’s. Discussions of deficit budgets appeared in minutes of the board in 1962, 1964 and 1965 with the later crisis resulting in major fund raising activities during 1965-66.
In 1965, following a request from the Anglican church, Pierre Berton published “The Comfortable Pew”: a critical look at Christianity and the religious establishment in the new age. Berton’s book bears truths that are worth heeding as we look to the future.
Visionaries of the day began to feel that the future lay in closer co-operation with fellow religious travellers. Discussions were particularly vigorous with the Anglican Church and in 1965 ‘Principles of Union between the United and Anglican Churches’ was published with an active plan developed for regular meetings between ministers of both churches. This issue was not resolved until the subsequent decade where a decision was made against union. In 1968, union with the Evangelical United Brethren was finalized.
Following last weekend’s workshop and shared service, it is timely that we explore ways of co-operation with sister churches. It is my view that the future of the Christian Church is dependant on sharing our resources and our faith. Ecumenical Shared Ministry is but one way of living out the way of Christ’s Good News.
Many describe the 60’s as the decade of free love. The Gospel of John in chapter 15 suggests that each decade ought to be filled with love, freely expressed by following God’s commandments. Jesus strongly reminds us that he is shaped in the way of love, and so too are we. “love others as I have loved you” is the simple directive of Jesus. I find myself wondering if the 1960’s had a unique perspective on Jesus’ love. Did those living in that decade risk loving in a generous, open, radical love, revealed by the Holy One? Is that part of what distinguishes the 1960’s? Jesus chose his disciples by loving them. Many of you have friendships that formed 50 years ago. Surely those relationships have endured the years because of love. May we continue the tradition of radical love.
I believe that the 1960’s was a pivotal decade. A new hymn book, a new Sunday School curriculum, the formation of the UCW, talks about union with other denominations, many church groups, innovative Bible studies, and partnered ministry all shaped the decade. It was a busy time in the church. We were a congregation with love to share. Some people describe it as the last of the glory years.
The radical gift of love is transformative to a group, a community and to the world. It has long reaching power. For Penticton United Church, we have loved one another for 90 years. We are committed to love boldly and daringly long into the future, for we are followers of Jesus. May that be so. Amen.