The United Church is Canada’s largest Protestant denomination. And it’s uniquely Canadian. It was inaugurated in 1925 at a large worship service in a Toronto arena and recognized by an act of Parliament.
It was founded by a merger of four Christian churches: the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Union of Ontario and Quebec and the Association of Local Union Churches, a predominantly prairie-based movement. Two-thirds of Canada’s Presbyterians joined the new United Church and the other three churches joined as a whole.
Canada was the first country in the world where Protestant churches chose to pool their resources and become a larger Christian church. The United Church has a history of working ecumenically and with interfaith coalitions.
In 2016, the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ in the United States established full communion with each other. Although not a merger, the cooperative working relationship of the two socially progressive denominations was approved at national conventions of both churches in the summer.
The United Church of Canada began ordaining female ministers in 1936. It takes a scholarly interpretive, rather than literal approach to the Bible. It has been progressive on education, medicare, minority rights and relations with the wider Christian Church and other faiths.
It is governed by local presbyteries, regional conferences and the national General Council. Congregations range from moderately conservative to very liberal and conduct their affairs with a lot of autonomy.
There are about 3,000 individual congregations in the church and about 3,500 ordained ministers, about two-thirds of them men and one-third women.
The spiritual head of the United Church is the Moderator, elected at General Councils by clergy and lay representatives from across Canada. The Moderator can be a man or woman, clergy or lay person.
About 2.5 million Canadians list the United Church as their religious affiliation; about 500,00 of them are active members on church rolls today.