As a long time United Church member I found this book confirmed some things I knew, and yet surprised me with other things. Professor Airhart shows how the vision of those who formed the United Church from the uniting denominations paralleled their vision of how Canada itself should develop. By getting the churches together they would help to create a more “Christian” nation. They would have greater influence on social and economic policy, they would have a more powerful voice in the halls of government and business, and this would make Canada a better place to live. The author shows how the cultural ground shifted over the first fifty or sixty years of the Church’s life. She analyses the decline of “organized religion” in Canada and relates it to the changing nature of our nation’s character and culture. I was surprised to learn how difficult it was for the United Church to change its vision and mission to adapt to a different world, yet religion’s very nature is to resist change especially when it seems to threaten its version of reality. This is both a strength and a weakness. For example, she points out that the four court structure of the United Church may seem to make change more difficult and be unnecessarily complicated. At the same time the structure helped the institution resist the shock of social and theological changes without self-destructing.
For me this was a fascinating account of my church’s and my country’s history over the last century. Not a comfortable read however because our strengths are paralleled by our failures, and the dream and vision most of us grew up with has become to a large extent irrelevant and impossible in the modern world.