Rev. Dirk Jessen
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The United Church of Canada: Radical Welcome
as a Starting Point

Later this summer, the United Church of Canada will in all likelihood vote to significantly change its governing structure. I must admit that this impending change has me both excited and a bit worried. Over the next few weeks leading up to the national meeting where this decision will be made, I will write about the United Church, what it has meant, means now and might in the future mean to those of us who are drawn to be followers of Jesus.

I must admit that while my training as a student of history is to begin in the past, I have been persuaded to begin instead in the present. A major reason to begin in the here-and-now was inspired by an article on the United Church of Canada website entitled “Let Our True Colours Shine,” by Kathryn Dorrell. In this article, Kathryn reflects on an artistic choice by her United Church congregation in Toronto. (

One of the things that I take from this article is the idea of ‘radical welcome.’ The meaning of the word “radical” has been distorted in recent times. A “radical” has come to mean something like a person or group who is extremist and, most often destructive. “Terrorist” and “radical are often seen as one in the same.

However, “radical” actually means “going back to the root” of a tradition or practice, or religion. What Kathryn reveals is that what her congregation in Toronto, and other United Church congregations throughout Canada, is doing today truly radical. They express this by being explicitly open to, and supportive of, the lives and faith journeys of people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For me, being truly radical is welcoming people who have been overlooked and sometimes even despised in society and church. Reflecting and following the teaching and example of Jesus is as radical as it gets. Our scriptures reveal how Jesus drew on the basic teachings of his Jewish upbringing: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” In large part, Jesus did this by spending his life with the outsiders in his day and age, those overlooked and discounted like women, children, people who were handicapped or ill, illiterate, poor, and foreigners.

When I think about Jesus and his deeply faithful radicalness, it reminds me about the radical life of The United Church of Canada: past, present, and future, and I am hopeful! - Rev. Dirk

Next week: My own “outsider” story.