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This spring, I will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from theological college, which was a big step in my preparation for ordination into the Christian ministry.
I have seen some major changes in the Canadian churches during the last half century and would like to share four of my observations.
The emergence of women in all forms of church leadership has got to be one of the most significant developments. When I was in seminary during the mid-sixties, a few women were fellow students, but none of them, I suspect, intended to be ordained as pastors. They simply enjoyed the challenge of a theological education.
How different it is today! Women occupy positions that were always held exclusively by men in many of our denominations. Even in more conservative churches, contemporary women commonly assume roles that make them indispensable. Today, female leaders serve as models for growing numbers of young women and men alike.
The secularization of Canadian society is a second major development. Secularization describes a people disconnected from religion. There was a time when most Canadians considered themselves Christian – either Catholic, Protestant or other. Politicians frequently consulted religious leaders before proposing legislation. The general public linked ethical decision-making to Christian faith. That time is largely past.
Religion now plays an ever-declining role in the public square. Canada is growingly multi-cultural and multi-faith in nature. This has changed our self-understanding as a people. While not dead, the role of religion has changed. Those claiming no faith have increased considerably.
Canadians, often spurred on by the religious presence remaining in this land, have become more sensitive to justice issues and the care of creation. When being Canadian was but another way of claiming to be a Christian, many in the churches were content that Canada was traditionally biased in matters of culture, creed and social status.
Today, largely due to the prodding of visionary and prophetic church leaders, Canada stands as an enviable example of social justice and environmental concern in the view of many nations around the world. While we must constantly be on our guard against both internal and external evils, we can feel justly proud of what we stand for today.
Finally, the ecumenical and interfaith progress we have enjoyed in Canada for the past five decades is really quite amazing. I believe we can attribute at least some of that to the Second Vatican Council and the growing influence of the World Council of Churches after mid-century.
As a young graduate of a mainline Protestant seminary, I had eagerly sought out educational and service ministries that helped me to understand and learn from other Christians and members of other faiths. I still celebrate friends and experiences from those early years that helped us overcome long-standing divisions.
Women's leadership, secularization, social justice/care of creation and ecumenical/interfaith developments – these are four major influences upon my changing, evolving faith. Each of these themes deserve at least a column for themselves.
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Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.
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