Prayers from the private chaplaincy room at GC43 near the plenary
Prayers from the private chaplaincy room at GC43 near the plenary. Photo: The United Church of Canada

Chaplains Play an Invaluable Role in Easing Stress of General Council

Chaplains at the United Church’s 43rd General Council are providing faith, prayer, reassurance, and a calm presence in “the storm” that is GC43.

Whether it is helping an Islamic guest find a quiet place to pray, or counselling commissioners who are grappling with the stress of making decisions that have a significant impact on the church, the 10 chaplains who are here around the clock are helping people at General Council find solace.

The Rev. Janet Stobie, a chaplain from Bay of Quinte Conference, has spoken with several commissioners feeling stress over the new process at GC43 and the weight of issues they are voting on. “There was some initial concern about navigating the new process, the issues at hand, and whether their voices would be heard,” she says. “Commissioners take their jobs very seriously, especially at this General Council with major changes resulting from their votes.”

Commissioners also care deeply about making the right decisions and about how they represent the people back home in their communities, adds GC43 chaplain Robyn Brown-Hewitt of Maritime Conference. “They want to do their work responsibly and faithfully. They want to jump on this new adventure that is change in the church, but they know the process of bringing about change is going to be stressful.”

Chaplains all agree that many commissioners struggle with a tremendous sense of letting go; letting go of traditional structures, roles, ways of doing things, and people. The remits enacted earlier this week pave the way for a three-council model that includes 16 regions that will replace the current 85 presbyteries and 13 Conferences. Chaplains say commissioners are well aware that this will result in job loss for many individuals who have dedicated their lives to the church. “It’s hard to come to terms with this for many here. It takes a lot of faith,” says Stobie.

Chaplains are also tending to the needs of youth pilgrims and young commissioners who want to share their concerns and questions about General Council with someone they perceive as being “outside the General Council structure—not insiders.”

One chaplain spoke and prayed with Moderator nominees early in the week. “Their love and passion for the church was immense. All the nominees are human, and if they were not under a lot of stress it would be unusual,” says a chaplain.

General Council participants facing a variety of personal challenges also turn to chaplains. For example, many people have pre-existing mental health issues and, in one chaplain’s words, “GC43 is a presser cooker.” Chaplains say these individuals may be feeling stress because they don’t have the supportive people here that they rely on and confide in at home, so talking with a chaplain can be very helpful.

A commissioner sought out a chaplain when they had to leave council to drive a considerable distance to see a young family friend who was critically ill in hospital. The commissioner had anxiety about leaving and driving a long distance, not knowing if the young person would be alive when they arrived. “We talked it out, prayed, and I offered reassurance,” says the Rev. David Moore, a GC43 chaplain and minister at Simcoe St. United in Oshawa, ON.

Moore also counselled a commissioner whose pregnant daughter was unexpectedly induced. “That individual also had to leave council and then return on short notice. There was stress over doing that, and some stress over the health of the mother-to-be and baby being born.” Fortunately, the story had a positive outcome. Moore says the commissioner approached him upon return and they said a prayer of thanksgiving together for a healthy outcome.

Overall, chaplains say they have reconnected with people whom they have counselled and have heard the wisdom and faith that was offered was comforting. “It is a privilege to listen to and guide people at General Council who put their trust and faith us,” says Stobie.