Moderator Richard Bott with bundle of ashes
Moderator Richard Bott with bundle of ashes. Photo: The United Church of Canada

Moderator Richard Bott at Closing Worship: The Church Is Hungry for Change

The Right Rev. Richard Bott, newly installed Moderator of the United Church, opened the final worship at General Council declaring that he is the “epitome of privilege” in a time when the church is hungry for change and needs to fully embrace racialized and marginalized people. “I stand before you tonight as a person who is a White, middle-class, middle-aged, cis, university-educated male. I don’t know what my blinders are even keeping from me, let alone the things I don’t want to look at because I am too scared,” said the Moderator.

Moderator Bott was acknowledging the emotional period of personal sharing that came at the close of business today. “When I came into court I heard the voices of this community, racialized and Indigenous folk, people who spoke with courage and vulnerability to me.”

Then he picked up the bundle of ashes that was presented at that time to the General Council by the All Native Circle Conference Speaker, Cheryl Jourdain. He said, “All I can say right now is … that I have to learn and pick up this bundle until it is gone from char to ash. The grace is that I am not the only one who is going to pick this up. I pray that you are going to pick them up with me—that we might be changed by God’s grace.”

The Rev. Evan Noodin Smith had given Jourdain the ashes from the Sacred Fire at the 43rd General Council. The bundle also contained ashes from the last fire of the All Native Circle Conference. “I couldn’t believe what they felt like,” said Jourdain. “They were all crunchy. They were not ashes. They haven’t burned long enough.” She added, “These are not mine to carry.”

After his opening remarks, Moderator Bott preached on John 6:1–14 (Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand), a passage that Worship Coordinator barb janes had chosen. In this gospel, we see the doubt of Jesus’ disciples, Philip and Andrew, and witness a miracle unfold through a simple gift from a child.

The Moderator reminded General Council that the famished crowd listening to Jesus was “hungry in so many ways … For freedom. For deeper connection with each other and with God ...” And Jesus’ followers did not think they had enough to offer; a solution was impossible.

There are distinct parallels to the place we find ourselves today. “These hungers are apparent in the streets, in the news stories, in our social media, in our families, in the loneliness and brokenness of so many people’s lives,” noted Moderator Bott. There are also parallels to the marginalized voices that spoke of racism and discrimination and the urgency of change in General Council today. “Think of the child from the crowd. This child was hungry and was not part of the inner circle,” he said. “The child offered what they had, knowing that they might stay hungry …

“The child is us at our best, and the child is the world at its best; when we are ready to offer without having any idea what the end result might be—trusting that what God does with the gift, and with us, will be enough to satisfy the hunger, the hunger of all the world, and more. We could risk and we could dare and see those hungers satisfied. Risk. Dare. Thanks be to God.”

Watch the newly elected Moderator’s full address in the Closing Worship livestream on the 43rd General Council website.