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WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report

Indigenous UC of Canada leader sets goals for action

The Rev. Carmen Lansdowne serves next door in Canada. Photo by Gen Heywood


By Gen Heywood

Carmen Lansdowne of the United Church of Canada (UCCan) was among the representatives from 352 member churches that are part of 250 denominations who gathered in Karlsruhe, Germany to sing, pray, discern, learn, listen, reflect and respond to the call of God in service to one another.

Carmen had just been elected July 23 and installed on Aug. 7 as moderator of the United Church of Canada.

After 30 years, she is UCCan's first ordained indigenous woman pastor and second indigenous leader in that role.

Carmen, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation in the Central Coast region of British Columbia and life-long member of the UCCan, serves as a spiritual leader and public representative for all UCCan churches. She is open to how the role may evolve as the church embraces the change to being a medium-sized denomination.

Speaking with honor and humility, she expressed gratitude for the diverse experiences in the ecumenical movement and the UCCan that have prepared her to come into this three-year term with skills and connections to the wider ecumenical movement

A three-year term is a short time for a moderator to help Canadian churches move into a vision of what they can be together, but Carmen encourages church leaders to join her in big dreams focused in three areas:

• Change-making conversations, especially focusing on climate, inequality and reconciliation.

• Widening engagement inside and outside the church.

• Mentoring a new generation of leadership.

In response to the difficulty of meeting these goals in three years, Carmen said, "So often we look at the systemic changes we want as intractable problems, but Mariana Mazzucato, an Italian economist teaching at the City University of London, offers a perspective in her 2021 book, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism.

"Mariana wrote that when we try to solve a problem, we have already committed ourselves to a certain mindset. When we set a goal to achieve the unachievable, like President John Kennedy did with the Apollo mission, we are more engaged in the prefrontal cortex, using curiosity, innovation, dreaming, iteration and moving to achieve a goal rather than fix a problem. We have run out of time to do this in our silos," Carmen said.

This need for the churches to engage the wider sectors of society on issues of moral concern is especially felt in relation to climate justice. The recent UCCan General Council passed a proposal that by 2030 the churches will reduce their greenhouse emissions by 80 percent.

The program, called "Faithful Footprints," helps communities of faith assess their greenhouse gas emissions, develop strategies and retrofit buildings, sometimes with the help of small grants from the UCCan.

The denomination has already divested from fossil fuels through "Fossil Free Faith." They partner with SHARE, Shareholder Association for Research and Education in Canada.

Carmen notes that the power is in their pension plan, which considers when to hold shares in corporations that need to change. By having shares, the pension representatives have the power to voice concerns and direction. Corporations tend to listen when the voice is strong, she said.

The UCCan moderator sees how the church needs to be "more nuanced in our approach to the issues of our time. We must consider our external costs. Being thoughtful about the importance of cross-sector collaboration means that the church must be thoughtful and nuanced for us to be taken seriously," she explained.

"The church could be making more bridges between issues and corporations as part of our mission to the world. Mission is usually seen as bad, but the idea that God is calling us to act in the world is still alive in our faith," Carmen noted. "We need to be thoughtful and discerning about what that looks like.

"We know that justice does not look like the ideology of trickle-down economics. It has been researched and proven to not work," she said.

"We do not have to accept that the current form of capitalism in North America is the only form of capitalism. The experience seen in the example of the World Council of Churches Assembly in Germany reveals another way," she pointed out.

"We in North America let go of our political power so quickly. Coming to Europe, not that they are perfect, we see that when the voters hold the politicians accountable to taking stronger action on climate, they do it," she said.

After just a few months in office, Carmen is still learning how her three goals will evolve.

Relationships between churches and those who have power offer the possibility to bring changes.

Many of Canada's concerns are also concerns for the U.S., which offers an opportunity for the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ to use their collective presence to model how to engage in more dialogue, set goals and work toward them.

"The need to collaborate across churches and all structures of influence in our society is critical in the time we live," she said.

"The climate emergency is not waiting for political systems to catch up. We have elders who remind us that there were other ways of living, and youth demanding that we reorient ourselves to preserve any quality of life we can for their future" Carmen said.

"Those of us who make decisions about our elders and our youth have a moral obligation to take the climate emergency seriously and to call on our country to pivot in radical ways, ways that we know are possible due to the types of policy changes and leadership we saw during the Second World War and the Apollo Mission in the U.S., and in our global and collective responses, as imperfect as they were, to COVID-19," she said.

Carmen attended the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) from 2003 to 2007. After completing an internship at the Marengo Pastoral Charge in Saskatchewan, she was ordained and completed a master's degree in theology at VST before moving to Berkeley, where she completed another master's in theology in 2011 and a doctoral degree in 2015.

Along with writing, speaking and serving in various church roles, Carmen served on the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches from 2006 to 2013, and as ex-officio corresponding member of the Executive General Council of the UCCan.

She chairs the UCCan Indigenous Candidacy Board and sits on Keepers of the Vision of the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Center.

Carmen's vision for the UCCan is to continue to define who they are, build new connections, rebuild old ones, work towards social change that cares for the world and honors human dignity.

She calls the church "to walk together in repentance and reconciliation, march and fight and change unjust systems together, and to pray, sing and discern together, because truly we are not alone. We live in God's world."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October 2022