The United Church believes that the Bible is central to the Christian faith and was written by people who were inspired by God. The church also believes that the circumstances under which the books of the Bible were written were of a particular place and time, and some things cannot be reconciled with our lives today, such as slavery
The two sacraments of the United Church are Communion and Baptism.
Communion is the ritual sharing of the elements of bread and wine (or, more commonly, grape juice) as a remembrance of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his followers. It is usually celebrated at a table at the front of the sanctuary, where the minister blesses the elements before they are distributed to the congregation. There is no restriction regarding age or United Church membership—Communion is open to young children as well as Christians from other denominations. The actual distribution can take several forms, including passing a tray of bread cubes and another tray of small juice glasses from person to person, and then eating the bread and drinking the juice in unison; and “intinction”, where each person takes a piece of bread, dips it into a cup of juice and then eats the juice-soaked bread.
There is no guideline for frequency. Some pastoral charges celebrate communion once a month, others on a quarterly basis.
Remembering that Jesus was reported to have welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes and other “undesirables” to his table, the church attempts to welcome everyone, regardless of age, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. In the same manner, there is also no restriction on those interested in entering ministry.
Believing that marriage is a celebration of God’s love, the church recognizes and celebrates all legal marriages, including same-sex couples, previously divorced people, and couples of different religions. The actual policy of whom to marry is left up to the church council of each pastoral charge. For instance, one congregation might not allow same-sex marriages to be performed in their building, while another allows all marriages regardless of sexual orientation.
The church believes that there are many paths to God. The United Church’s path is through Jesus Christ, but the church also recognizes that Christians’ understanding of this is limited by an incomplete comprehension of God; their belief is that the Holy Spirit of God is also at work through other non-Christian faiths.
The church supports the right of women to have access to safe abortions that are covered by provincial health care, but also supports better access to contraception, sexual education, and counselling that eventually might obviate the need for abortion.
A full member is one who has been baptised, either as infant, child, youth or adult, and has made a public profession of faith before the congregation. Membership is not required in order to worship at a United Church, and many who regularly attend worship are adherents rather than members. (The United Church estimates the number of adherents within the church at almost three million, as compared to 300,000 full members)
In order to become a full member, a person goes through a process called “confirmation”. This is offered to adults (starting at around age 13) and usually involves a series of classes about the beliefs of the United Church. Following this, the candidate makes a public profession of faith before the congregation, thereby “confirming” the statements made by his or her parents during baptism. If the person is unbaptised, the minister baptises the person before the profession of faith. The new member’s name is then entered on the official Roll of Members for that congregation.
Benefits of membership
Only members can be a part of a pastoral charge’s board or council. In addition, a member can vote on spiritual matters at congregational meetings—usually whether to issue a “call” to a new minister to join the congregation. (On temporal matters—those that deal with finances, property, etc.—a motion is usually made at the start of a congregational meeting to allow all who are present, rather than just members, the right to vote.)
Transfer of membership and removal from rolls
Although confirmation takes place at the congregational level, the person is a member of the entire United Church of Canada, not just one congregation; therefore membership can be transferred freely from congregation to congregation.