I went to Union United Church the end of January to worship, something I do occasionally. And each time I pull on that big brown door it’s with great expectations of hearing some “good news” from the pulpit and the good members of the Union family, especially that the seemingly endless contention, which has resulted in the polarization of the congregation, has finally ended, and that everyone is now on the same page, singing from the same Hymn book, and working cooperatively.
So there I was. After greeting familiar folk I settled in for another Sunday session of spiritual love and togetherness, including good news vis-à-vis goings-on at the church, capped off with an uplifting sermon.
God knows, for a few years there’s been nothing but bad news coming out of Union, the congregation has been anything but united. So it belies the biblical reading:
“[For] where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20.
As far as that relates to Union, Matthew must be very disappointed. From personal observation and random conversations, not even the recitation of that sentiment seems to be engendering a spirit of cooperation at Union United.
Blame the polarized forces, each of which is telling (their version) of the goings-on in the “historically Black” house of worship, as it continues on its trajectory of generating bad news… Yes, things may appear calm on the surface, but for some time the Union congregation has been anything but.
Personal friction and animosity seem to be prevailing, which in turn is stymieing any forward movement of the church. That does not bode well for the future.
Having emerged from a tumultuous period, which pitted the polarized forces—one of which it seems was in support of the recently departed Rev. Emmanuel Ofori who ministered at the church for about 6 or so years—against one another. Many of the shrinking congregation hoped that his (unscheduled or forced) departure would herald stability and a renewed spirit of cooperation at the church. But after that service I was left with a sense of hopelessness and palpable friction among the disunited congregation.
As I continue to say to people when we talk about Union United Church, its well-being and longevity should and must be the primary and sole focus of the congregation.
Or maybe I’m missing something, a power struggle of sorts between the two factions, as we see in politics – I’ll call it “spiritual politics. But to what end? Is there some sort of prominent position at stake at the church, which will bring one, or more persons, fame, publicity, popularity… in the broader community?
Union is just a church people; it’s not a business. All people want to do is show up on Sundays to worship in a spirit of friendship, camaraderie, harmony and collaboration, all with the church in mind. Rather than alienating people, those who purport to be working in the best interest of the place should carry out [individual stated voluntary] responsibilities and do for the church – selflessly.
I’ve now concluded that the former reverend was a minor problem, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. His departure has not resolved the friction at that venerable, historic house of worship.
Maybe it’s my inherent, naïve optimism, always thinking the best of people and the capacity to put differences aside and work together for the common good, in this case the church.
What is so hard about that?
I know. We Black people have a tendency to create problems where solutions are always at our fingertips, but we find ways to create and nurture petty differences. In a place with a name like Union United Church, an important part of Montreal’s [Black] history where the congregation and atmosphere should personify supreme harmony, a spiritual toxic atmosphere pervades—at least the minds of some… That is unacceptable.
As the old maxim goes: “The more things change…”
Let us hope that Union United begins to live up to its name.
The Politics Of It…
“Everybody needs to work together to bring more tolerance…” That’s what Premier Philippe Couillard said at one of his press conferences in the wake of one of the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated in Quebec.
But the premier should’ve gone further by replacing the word “tolerance” with ‘embrace’. That word tolerance, among others like minorities, visible minorities, and others when I hear them used in the media in reference to people are akin to rubbing Styrofoam, simply irritating to my ears.
The hell with tolerance; it diminishes the value of human beings. I prefer the word acceptance simply because it’s easy on the ears, easier on my mind and it’s the right thing to do.
I for one think describing, boxing, pigeonholing people (essentially categorizing and sub-categorizing) is problematic at best.
Voices in the media began spitting that word tolerance a lot a few years ago when Muslims and their preferred way of dress—their traditional cultural attire—became a favourite heated and in some cases divisive topic in radio and television discussions.
As some radio talk show hosts used to say, “the lines are blazing…are burning up…”
It was more than that; some people too were burning up, fuelled by the sight of people in public places dressed in their cultural attire. And, gauging the growing anger of certain segments of the population, some politicians (in their dubious self-serving politicking) only served to enflame anti-immigrant sentiments by asking that government enact laws (Bill this that and the other) that would forbid certain people, many of whom are born Québecois(e), but Canadians all, to wear certain attire – if they work in the public sector.
Anti-Muslim graffiti, pig heads placed in front of Mosques, the extensive and lengthy Hèrouxville discussion and other forms of anti-Muslim sentiment were symptomatic of a growing problem.
So when a white extremist and terrorist, Alexandre Bissonnette, entered a Quebec City mosque and fatally shot six men who were praying, the seeds of hated which had been sown, germinated. [Some] prominent political leaders had done their part by stoking the political fires of anti-Muslimism.
[Echoes of that young white racial supremacist who entered a Black South Carolina church a couple years ago and killed nine people who were praying.]
Now there they were, some of the politicians who helped stoke the fire of hatred, standing in the National Assembly, ostensibly in solidarity and empathizing with the bereaved families of the victims.
Husbands, fathers… had become victims of another convert of hate, perpetrated by another malleable mind that had absorbed much of the populist-driven, racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric pervading the media.
And then, at the beginning of February, Premier Couillard said, “[The] tone must change.”