Canada has changed in my lifetime.  Duh.  If things are alive then by definition they should change.  A rock doesn’t change.  But people do.  And organizations do.  And nations do too.  We’d be wise to pay attention to it all even if we are always a half step behind full comprehension of what’s changed around us.

I work with churches and church people.  We are some of the most intense, focused, committed Canadians you will ever find.  But sometimes our intensity causes us to miss the reality of the life around us.  We periodically need to step back, take a breath, discover the awareness around us.

Here are some thoughts—

1.  Canada was a nation originally founded by conversation and discussion–not bullets and bloodshed.  When we were born in 1867, we sat down at the table and talked.  We found out who wanted to do this and to what level.  We found out what our mother (Great Britain) thought.  We even met people who talked but weren’t ready to join us.  But eventually, we cobbled together a plan called Confederation, signed some papers, and launched.   As much as it in hindsight could be termed a “bold Canadian vision” it was more of an “agreed plan to work together to help each other out”.    That may not be the only attitude loose in the Canadian psyche today…but it is Canadian.  When a church plans its’ future today…does it have a Canadian dimension to it?  Do people talk?  Does diversity show up in the discussion and conclusion?  Is there a sense of “helping each other out”?  Can we live with conflicting ideas and passions for sake of a greater reality?

2.  Early in the game we self identified as a nation of “two solitudes”.  The French/English dichotomy was evident from the beginning.  Quebec was different.  Or you could say “English Canada” was different if you were looking at Canada through the eyes of a Montrealer.  But Canadians agreed to live with diversity and even tensions that the diversity brought.  We did things that were inefficient.  We translated everything twice.  We tried really hard to keep everybody happy and participating.  Later on, as the English dimension grew and the French dimension plateaued, morphed and even became difficult, there was no appetite to ‘kick them out”.  In fact, I think Canada’s identity for “tolerance” is really birthed here.  We put up with a lot as Canadians.  I think churches are places where diversity can co-exist with singularity.  In fact, I think churches should be incredibly diverse.  But you can’t be diverse unless you are inclusive.

3.  World War 2 was a coming of age time for us.  Suddenly Canada became a contributor to the world identity.  Immediately afterwards, millions of Europeans came to Canada to find their future.  We may have been historically 2 solitudes but now we were a nation of immigrants.  And the immigrants didn’t just drop their identities at the ship dock.  They maintained their language, their cooking, their dress, their family ways…and gathered together to form Italian neighbourhoods, Greek neighbourhoods, Polish areas, etc.  It was only natural.  Everybody was anxious to “get a job” and get on with the task of forming a good life in Canada.  Initially, there was some getting used to each other.  After a while (a generation or two), the immigrants became the long term citizens.  Language was adapted.  Dress was Canadianized.  Culture was celebrated but as a historical background not the dominant identity.    Canadians when they are at their best take a longer term view of life and talk about adjustments, accommodations, integrations, assimilations.  We learned patience during these days.   Churches alternate between patience and impatience.  Leading a Canadian church requires a skill to promote both.  If we are to be good Canadians in our churches we would promote assimilation over time.  That requires listening, acceptance…love.

4.  The latter decades of the 20th century provoked some changes amongst us too.  We ceased receiving newcomers from Europe and embraced millions from Asia and to a lesser degree Africa.  We needed help in forming Canada.  We had filled the spaces and farmlands of Canada 50 years ago but now we needed help in filling the workforces of the cities and towns.  Europeans and long term Canadians weren’t really interested in service level work. We were educated in leadership and management. And unless it was economically feasible, we were reluctant to get dirty for little pay.  So, we opened our doors to a new phase of welcoming people.  And Canada has changed again.  And it’s challenging us.  Canada isn’t as young as she used to be and as people (and organizations) age we become less flexible.  Hardening of the categories.  We’re going to have to figure out a way to adapt though because Canada has changed around us.  The new wave of immigrant is so fresh that he or she still speaks with an accent, still chooses to dress as they did in the old country, still enjoys the food and culture of the old ways.  But give it a generation, or two, and we’ll be surprised at what comes up.    In the meantime, the newcomer has energy and passion and focus.  They have come to Canada to make a new life for themselves.  The very thing that was true for us at our birth, and seen again after WW2 is true today.  In our churches, can we not just tolerate but can we assimilate the new energy that comes to us from newcomers?

5.  How do you lead a Canadian reality?  That’s been my challenge.  I think patience, and conversation, and acceptance, tolerance for diversity (even conflicting realities), and vision (yes there is a place for a Canadian vision!) are all necessary to keep this thing together from sea to sea.  We started as a confederation.  That means something.  Initially, the interests of the local and region were held as high and important as the interests of the nation.  We are constantly trying to balance it out.

How have you found the challenge of leading your Canadian reality?