As you may have heard, I have been elected as the 44th Moderator of the United Church of Canada, and my new journey begins at my installation this Sunday. I’m humbled that the people of the United Church—many of you—have put your trust in me to be the spiritual leader and public representative for the next three years. Your steadfast belief in my vision, and in me, makes me truly believe that this is where I need to be right now.
But this isn’t goodbye. I’m thinking of it as…see you in a little while.
When I joined the team at FIRST UNITED five years ago, the organization was vastly different. I was different. I was a first-time Executive Director, and was returning to the Church in a paid accountable ministry role for the first time since 2008, when I was the United Church chaplain at UBC, serving UHill Congregation. But starting at FIRST felt like coming home. I was raised caring about FIRST UNITED and how it’s a vital part of the Church, the Downtown Eastside, and really, of Canada. My parents were married here. FIRST has always been a part of me, and now I am part of it.
I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past five years. When I first started, FIRST UNITED and its sister organization First United Church Social Housing Society were in financially unsustainable positions; relationships between management, staff, and our newly-formed bargaining unit were fraught; and our governance practices weren’t where they needed to be. But the Board of Directors and staff (and UFCW1518!) dug in and all supported me, and worked with me, to make FIRST UNITED great.
Now, as I take stock and look around, I feel fully secure in stepping away from the organization. We’re moving forward with our dream of redeveloping our building. Demolition is happening, and we can see our bright future on the horizon.
We’re now a certified living wage employer, making sure that each and every person on staff who helps us realize our vision of a neighbourhood where all people can thrive, also has the resources to thrive in their own life.
Earlier this spring we became accredited under the Imagine Canada Standards Program, recognizing FIRST as diligent and rigorous charity.
And of course, we’ve successfully navigated two years of a global pandemic and managed to keep the majority of our programs open and safely serving the community. We’ve remained acutely aware of and highly responsive to the other public health emergency that has been ravaging our community since before I stared: the overdose crisis. Every day we show up ready to help: from serving a bowl of soup, to saving a life.
FIRST UNITED is not only stable, but strong. I know that while I’m away our committed Boards, staff, volunteers, and supporters will keep up the momentum of our pursuit of justice, equity, reconciliation, and dignity for all. I know they’ll continue to support our neighbours in the Downtown Eastside and ensure that they are safe and have their needs met. I really hope you’ll continue to join us in that, too.
I’ll be “gone” but I won’t be far. My family and I just moved to a new space in Coquitlam, and you best believe I’ll be following along FIRST’s journey as I pursue my own. Maybe you’ll see me at an event or two.
If you want to participate in my service of installation you can attend in person or watch it through a livestream online, too! I hope you’ll join me in that. It would be wonderful to have you there with me, even virtually, as I take this next step. You, and the thousands of others who make up the FIRST UNITED community mean so much to me. Your support gives me strength. Thank you for five incredible years, and I look forward to connecting again when I’m back in 2025.
The Right Rev., Dr. Carmen Lansdowne
Moderator-elect, The United Church of Canada