A potential national headquarter move to the University of Winnipeg will be amongst the largest issues up for discussion at the United Church of Canada’s triennial national meeting from August 9 to 14 in Kelowna, B.C.
The 2009 General Council will hear a proposal that could bring the bureaucratic centre of Canada’s largest protestant denomination to the geographic centre of the nation.
And it seems the University of Winnipeg wants to give the warmest welcome to the United Church possible. The university has offered to include United Church offices in its future construction plans, possibly on the former site of the United Army Surplus building.
The University of Winnipeg has a historical connection to the United Church of Canada, as the university was born out of the United College conglomeration of Manitoba College and Wesley College in 1938, and the subsequent foundation of the University of Winnipeg in 1967. The university still hosts the United Church archives.
Currently, the national offices of the United Church are in Toronto, where they have been since the denomination’s formation in 1925.
“Getting the church to move ... is like pulling out a wisdom tooth – you have to loosen the roots first,” said Bruce Faurschou, the executive secretary of the Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference of the United Church.
The move is projected for 2015, which Faurschou thinks gives plenty of time for the United Church to develop a plan for becoming more involved with Winnipeg and the University of Winnipeg.
The move, according to a university press release, would be part of the university’s commitment to the downtown community. The United Church would bring 170 downtown jobs if it came to Winnipeg, and also bring the United Church spirit of social justice and community building.
In a 2008 interview with The United Church Observer, university president Lloyd Axworthy named secularism in the university as a passing trend, but said he sees faith and religion playing a more present role in politics.
“One of my goals is to restore the life and energy that the department of theology brought to the university as a whole.”
Axworthy, a longtime United Church attendee known for his commitment to social justice issues, hopes the Faculty of Theology will take on an “active role as a forum for intellectual discussion and debate.”
Faurschou said he is “very excited to have an engaging relationship with the university and to be challenged by the university.”
He is mindful of the diversity of community in Winnipeg and thinks the United Church can be a part of that in Winnipeg: “[The United Church] couldn’t get away with being faceless in this community.”
Building community with ecumenism is a primary tenet of the United Church of Canada, and Winnipeg offers a wide range of local denominational leaderships. Both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Synod and the Mennonite Central Committee call Winnipeg home.
While the move might seem like a good deal for the United Church, it’s easy to wonder how the University of Winnipeg might be influenced by a more direct relationship with the Church.
In name a private institution, the University of Winnipeg’s 36-member Board of Regents has 10 members appointed by the United Church, a continuation of the historical connections between United College and the university.
Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)