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United Church elects Carmen Lansdowne as 1st Indigenous girl to steer a spiritual denomination in Canada

Carmen Lansdowne stands against a tiled wall. She is a wearing a blue dress with red designs, along with a blue long-sleeved blouse.


A minister in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has develop into the primary Indigenous girl to steer a spiritual denomination in Canada.

On Saturday, the United Church of Canada elected Rev. Carmen Lansdowne as its new moderator. The place makes her the establishment’s religious chief and public consultant, whereas insurance policies and doctrine are overseen by a common council.

The Heiltsuk (Haíɫzaqv) Nation member, also referred to as Kwisa’lakw, helms First United within the Downtown Eastside. It affords meals, housing and showers to low-income residents.

“Our security nets are usually not adequately responding to their wants,” Lansdowne mentioned in an interview.

Church buildings ought to be “talking reality to energy” on points like poverty, housing, Indigenous rights, and local weather change, crises that “play out” tragically in the Downtown Eastside, she mentioned.

“However they’re points that have an effect on all Canadians. I feel the church ought to have one thing to say.”

Her election comes 36 years after the denomination turned the primary to apologize for abuses in opposition to Indigenous youngsters in its residential faculties.

“There are divisions or combined emotions, and rightly so, inside the Indigenous neighborhood about Christianity,” Lansdowne mentioned. “And on the similar time … the Christian story has been one which has been eager for some Indigenous folks.”

Lansdowne mentioned she “stands on the shoulders” of Alberta Billy, a We Wei Kai First Nation elder who died June 13. Billy was amongst a bunch of Indigenous elders who demanded the establishment make amends within the Nineteen Eighties. 

That historic apology got here in 1986, however the elders didn’t settle for it, as an alternative acknowledging it was acquired.

“That was an enormous present and problem to the church,” Lansdowne mentioned.

In 1992, Cree Rev. Stan McKay turned the church’s first Indigenous moderator. Thirty years later, Lansdowne was the one nominee.

‘Make room for these conversations’

Lansdowne’s management of what was as soon as one of many nation’s strongest denominations is an indication of change, mentioned Rev. Ray Aldred, director of the Vancouver Faculty of Theology’s Indigenous research program.

“To repair one thing, that is obtained to be a grassroots sort of motion and an excellent chief,” mentioned Aldred, an Anglican minister and member of the Swan River First Nation. “And I feel Carmen could be good at that … [to] take heed to the grassroots and attempt to make room for these conversations to occur.

“Generally, folks throw every part out, not simply the unhealthy stuff … What’s good? What wants to vary? What may be saved?”

Not one to keep away from probably the most divisive subjects inside Christianity, on June 28, she tweeted after the U.S. Supreme Courtroom reversed abortion rights: “This pastor will marry you and help you as you entry reproductive care. Full cease. No exceptions.”

Requested concerning the message, she mentioned it mirrored solely her personal views and ministry, admitting many Christians may be stunned.

“There are folks inside the United Church of Canada for whom that might be a very radical and difficult assertion, and we’re not in settlement with one another about that,” she mentioned. “I do not really feel prefer it’s my job or anyone’s job to evaluate one other individual round what occurs in and to their physique.”

In 1980, the church declared “abortion ought to be a private matter between a girl and her physician” — the identical yr it elected its first feminine moderator, Rev. Lois Wilson.

The United Church is among the many nation’s largest Protestant denominations; roughly 1.4 million Canadians categorical an affiliation, in line with Statistics Canada.

However a large membership decline has dealt a permanent blow to Sunday pews — and providing plates.

“We’ve but to see what the way forward for the church seems to be like … new ways in which we could not probably think about that do not centre round a neighbourhood congregational constructing,” Lansdowne mentioned.

Lansdowne says she desires to take a look at tackling the impacts of local weather change and fascism. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Having additionally labored for environmental regulation agency Ecojustice, she mentioned probably the most pressing priorities of her three-year time period is to “confront” the crises of local weather change, the “rise of nationalism and potential fascism,” and the neglect of seniors.

“The church can do and will do extra,” she mentioned. “We do not have a ton of time to confront a few of the challenges that we’ve got … We’ve to assume large and be hopeful and inventive.”

Lansdowne will probably be formally put in at a ceremony on Aug. 7 at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver.





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