United Church elects first indigenous woman to lead religious denomination in Canada

The Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne will take a leave of absence from First United Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to lead the UCC

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A minister from the Downtown Eastside church is the new leader of the United Church of Canada and the first indigenous woman to lead a religious denomination in this country.

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The United Church of Canada (UCC) chose the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, 47, as its 44th moderator on Saturday.

Lansdowne will take time off from her job as executive director of the First United Church Community Ministry Society in Gore and East Hastings in Vancouver in order to serve a three-year role as spiritual leader and public representative for the UCC.

“It’s a great honor and a great responsibility,” said Lansdowne, who was born in Alert Bay and is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

She has a Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA., and is the second indigenous person to be elected as a moderator of the UCC. The first was Stan McKay, who was the moderator from 1992 to 1994.

Lansdowne will officially take office a week after Pope Francis’ visit to Canada, during which he is expected to apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

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In 1986, the UCC was the first religious denomination in Canada to apologize for abuses against indigenous children in its schools.

Lansdowne noted that the indigenous church, and in particular its elders, have not yet “accepted” the 1986 apology.

“In many ways, we are still waiting for the rest of the church to make the necessary changes to live out that apology. I believe this remains an area of ​​misunderstanding for many in the church, and deserves further discussion as part of our denominational journey of repentance and healing,” he wrote in a vision statement for him.

Lansdowne said his appointment is an affirmation “of the moment we live in, as Canadians become more educated and aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, as well as the several hundred recommendations.” of the final report of the Royal Commission. on Aboriginal Peoples and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. These are all catalysts, along with the confirmation of unmarked graves in residential schools, for the need for deeper dialogue and learning about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.”

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She said it will also be a challenge for the church to have someone like her in the role.

“I will always take the position that unless what we are doing works for indigenous women at risk in Canada, it doesn’t really work for everyone, because everyone includes the most marginalized and most at risk women in our society. .”

Lansdowne hopes the pope’s visit will spark a new commitment to implement actions such as court-ordered financial reparations and the full release of all records held by the Roman Catholic Church and all its orders.

She said the confirmation of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School was a catalyst for Canadians to be moved by what happened and she is unclear why Kamloops and BC were not included in the papal visit.

“There was something palpable or tangible, where everyone could imagine that a child was not returned to his family and was not honored with a headstone, that really stuck in the hearts of Canadians,” Lansdowne said.

She was the only nominee and will be installed as UCC moderator at a ceremony on August 7.

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