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Communities of Faith, Clusters and Networks

Two Online Learning Cluster Opportunities

For Times Like These

In response to the need for “social distancing” what better time to connect online and reconnect with two core practices of our faith – prayer and studying scripture.

Here are two Online Learning Clusters to choose from. Open to anyone to join for any and all sessions!

Praying the Psalms – an approach to exploring the Psalms to help us navigate life’s dislocations, based on Walter Brueggeman’s Praying the Psalms and Ray McGinnis’s Writing the Sacred.  Four Thursday mornings beginning March 26th.

Opening the Book  listening together to The Bible for Normal People interviews with leading biblical thinkers (Diana Butler Bass, Rob Bell, Richard Rohr and more) followed by a facilitated online discussion.  Four Monday evenings beginning March 30th.

The Minister Supporting Communities of Faith, Clusters and Networks supports and enhances the life of Communities of Faith, nurturing Social Justice and Outreach programs and helps to establish and nurture clusters and networks. This position works to build the capacity of Communities of Faith to go deeper and reach wider in ministry and mission.

Contact: Jane Dawson, Minister Supporting Communities of Faith, Clustes and Networks

Please find the results of the Initial Feedback on Survey Responses from the Cluster Survey conducted in June 2019.


The Idea of Networks

Networks are central to living out the faith of the United Church. They link people working on specific issues or for project work and are loosely defined to allow them to take on different shapes and mandates. People involved in networks define their own meaning and responsibilities.

Although the language of “networks” is new to the United Church, the idea is very old. The theological starting point is scripture itself. The Book of Acts and Paul’s letters describe local assemblies that met in people’s homes but were also part of the wider network of other assemblies. The church had no central headquarters and multiple leaders with various gifts.

Networks have also been an important part of the fabric of the United Church for much of its history. In addition to local congregations people have been coming together across the wider church to fulfill its ministry and mission.

Existing Networks

There are many established and important groups within the United Church that function as networks already. Their work spans a range of specific issues and also reflects a variety of organizational structures, from formal to informal. The issues they address can be local, regional, national and international in scope. Some of these networks involve partnerships with other churches or agencies.

One of the first things to do to get involved with an existing network working on your issue of concern. There are many groups that are national in scope. There are also many more regional and local networks, too numerous to name. Here is a sampling of some national organizations and groups that can be considered networks.

La Table (Francophone representation)           United Youth Collective           Affirm          Canada Food Grains Bank           UNJPPI            United for Mining Justice             United Church Women             Healing Pathway           KAIROS Canada         Citizens for Public Justice     ACT Alliance                 Faith and the Common Good            United Church Camps             Music United             Wild Church Network             The Canadian Christian Meditation Community

EOORC Networks

Since EOORC is still very new, there aren’t yet many clearly established networks that span the entire region, but a few networks have already emerged:

SJNOR (Social Justice Network of Ontario Regions). Contact Charles Burnett, Chair, Charles.barrett25@yahoo.ca

Healing Pathway EOORC (a regional group within the national network). Contact Sharon Moon, sharonmoon45@gmail.com or Howard Clark, healingpathwayeast@gmail.com

Social Justice Network. Contact Jane Dawson, JDawson@united-church.ca

Urban Indigenous Network. Contact Teresa Burnett-Cole, revtbc.gsj@gmail.com

Starting a New Network

If you want to start a new network to share ideas or work together on a specific issue of interest, here are some steps to consider:

  1. Who are the people who will be involved in this network?
  2. Where will the leadership come from? Are there any mechanisms for participatory leadership so that the network does not rest on a few people but is supported by the active engagement of all participants?
  3. What kind of supportive infrastructure do you need? Do you need a governance structure and covenant framework or is it an informal network of people who share a common interest?
  4. If you plan to meet face to face, where will you meet, when, and how often? If this involves transportation how will mileage be paid for?
  5. What communications tools will you need to stay connected (email chain, Facebook page, phone tree, WhatsApp, teambuilding software program)?
  6. What is your mission and vision?
  7. Using a SMART goals framework (goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound) what are the goals you hope to achieve?

The most effective way to start and maintain a network is to keep it small and simple, and be clear about your intentions. What will this network accomplish that isn’t happening already? What resources (of time, energy, and materials) are required in order to sustain it? What difference will this network make – to the participants and to the surrounding community? What need does this network serve that isn’t being met by existing networks?

Being involved in a network can be very satisfying and rewarding and is an excellent way to build connections with others beyond individual communities of faith. However, many people are already very busy in their lives. It takes a good deal of organization and commitment to get a network started that will last beyond a few initial meetings. There is no financial support available for networks apart from identifying and applying for local resources, which can also be labour intensive.

Getting Help

If you have any questions or would like to explore these ideas further, or just have someone to brainstorm possibilities with, within EOORC you can contact Jane Dawson, Minister Supporting Communities of Faith, Clustes and Networks: JDawson@united-church.ca or 1-800-268-3781 ext. 6245 (based on Ottawa).

You can also contact Alexandra Belaskie in the General Council Office, Toronto who is working on the National Clusters and Networks Strategy: ABelaskie@united-church.ca or 1-800-268-3781 ext. 4157.

The Idea of Clusters

Clusters are central to living out the faith of the United Church. They are local groups that provide community and support for communities of faith and their leaders and focus on worship, mission, learning, collegiality and strategic planning.

Although the language of “clusters” is new to the United Church, the idea has been there from the very beginning. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there,” Jesus assures us. Our journey of faith is not going to be found in a building, a program or a formula. It will be found in connection, finding creative and inclusive ways to support each other in love, learning and fellowship.  

Clusters can take many shapes and forms. Some are small and informal, a company of friends, and some involve more formal organization. The scope for clusters is vast. Four important areas of clustering are identified below.

Congregational Clusters

In these changing times when many churches are facing declining membership, some congregations have been exploring ways to join forces to support each other and share resources. There is no blueprint for how this looks – each cluster of congregations must work together to figure out something that will work for them. Here are some examples from different parts of the country:

Genesis Cooperative Community  Eastern Ontario Outaouais Regional Council.

Église Unie de la Grace/Grace United  Eastern Ontario Outaouais Regional Council.

Rural United Ministry Eastern Ontario Outaouais Regional Council.

Crossing Boundaries Cluster. Canadian Shield Regional Council

Laurentian Area Ministry Nakonha:ka Regional Council.

Chinook Worship Circle Living Skies Regional Council

Regina and Area Cluster  Living Skies Regional Council

End United Regional Ministry Living Waters Regional Council (Toronto area)

Clergy Clusters

The work of ministry can be lonely and challenging. Opportunities for ministry personnel to come together for collegiality and peer support are vital to the ongoing spiritual and emotional health of those in roles of ministry leadership. Some peer support groups have been meeting for some time with a restricted membership. Others are open to newcomers. If you would like to form a clergy cluster in your area, although there are no formal programs in place, there are many avenues to explore.

Clergy Peer-Support Groups: To start your own peer ministry group, you can start by finding one friend to help you. Identify if you would like to advertise for more folks or email specific people. Plan for a specific day and time and stick to it. If only you and your friend show up, don’t be discouraged. It may take some time for others to give it a try. It is recommended to share leadership, meet in one another’s homes with clear boundaries for the meetings established at the outset.

Communities of Practice: Sometimes ministry personnel who share a particular feature in common (e.g., gender, racial or ethnic identity, age group, training stream, students, supervisors) gain a deeper sense of community from gathering to share stories and experiences). Although no official communities of practice are in place, if you can identify others who share an interest in meeting in your area there are possibilities for such groups to be formed.

Definitely Not Presbytery (DNP): Community Conversations: For many church leaders, prior to the recent restructuring, one of the benefits of Presbytery meetings was the opportunity to meet with colleagues from around the area. Although these meetings are now discontinued, there is a desire to continue the practice of gathering on a regular basis for collegiality and learning. Each founding Presbytery is approaching this in a way that suits their particular context.

Companioning Clusters

Many people long for opportunities to come together with others from either inside or outside their home congregation. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” There are many ways we can turn to each other for mutual support and deepening.

Common Life: The Common Life community is a United Church model of small group companionship for people who year for deeper spiritual engagement – people who are seeking the company of others to share their spiritual yearnings and who will support them in living out their faith in the world. They are participatory and open to people from any spiritual background, and meet monthly to share a simple meal and reflect on their engagement with five areas of commitment (justice, spirit, learning, community, retreat). Online Introductory Session: date TBD (offer twice) 

Into the Promise: This is a pilot program developed by Christine Jerrett of the EDGE Network bringing a small group of people from different local congregations together in a process of discernment about “what God is doing in our midst.” These groups are lay led with a focus on building congregational connections and making connections with the surrounding community. Online intro session: date TBD

Noticing the Sacred: For those living in areas where small group gatherings are not possible, this in an online option that brings small groups of people together to engage in shared process of paying attention to their spiritual life. As a group member you will receive a brief reflection by email each week then meet online for an hour each week to share responses, following a guideline for attentive listening and response, about how you are noticing the sacred in your daily life.

Learning Clusters

Many communities offer regular or seasonal Bible study groups, book clubs,and spiritual exploration groups within their community of faith. Opportunities for scriptural and spiritual study and dialogue with people from other congregations and backgrounds is a wonderful way to deepen our knowledge of the story of our tradition and our own spiritual lives and build wider community beyond the congregational level.

Please visit the Events Calendar to find out times and places of the learning clusters.