“The church has not always lived up to its vision. It requires the Spirit to reorient it…”
The identity of The United Church of Canada is as a justice-seeking, justice-living church that is open to diversity and provides radical welcome to all. We are a church that recognizes when we could have done better. A Song of Faith reads, “The church has not always lived up to its vision. It requires the Spirit to reorient it…”
Establishment of the Adoptions Task Group
In the spring of 2010, Mary Anne Alton, documentary producer/director and council member at Beach United Church in Toronto, contacted the General Council Office about her film, 40 Year Secret. The film documented the story of an unwed mother who describes being coerced into giving up her child for adoption while a resident in a church-run home for unwed mothers. During her research, Ms. Alton discovered that many women who had resided in church-sponsored maternity homes had similar stories. After meeting with then Moderator, Mardi Tindal, a screening of the film was arranged for staff of the General Council Office and other interested parties.
After further meetings with mothers and others affected by adoption practices, in 2012 the United Church established an Adoptions Task Group to learn more about the church’s role in forced adoptions. The task group grappled deeply with the myriad issues related to the hurt experienced by unmarried, pregnant women who stayed in United Church maternity homes particularly during the decades of 1940 to 1970.
The task group contemplated the historical, societal context that provided the rationale for the maternity homes and the many people within the church who have adopted children and have been adopted. The task group also considered the staff of maternity homes and the continued work of the Massey Centre, the only United Church residential centre still providing services for pregnant women, mothers, and their babies.
Research and the Final Report
An archival researcher was contracted to research the history of maternity homes governed by The United Church of Canada. The researcher reviewed materials available in the General Council Archives, the archives of Conferences that operated maternity homes, and the archives of the Massey Centre, formerly the Fred Victor Home for Girls. Three documents were produced as a result of that research: an overview of archival materials; accounts of women who resided in United Church of Canada maternity homes; and the researcher’s own recommendations regarding further research that might be undertaken.
The final report of the task group called on the Executive of the General Council to direct the Theology and Inter-Church, Inter-Faith Committee to research and devise a position paper regarding adoption and create a United Church of Canada statement on adoption. As well, liturgical resources were to be developed to acknowledge the hurt and pain and the hope for healing related to the separation of families through adoption. Faith communities were encouraged to offer services of healing and reconciliation for pain and loss suffered through adoption practices and to offer services to recognize and honour parents who have lost children through adoption.
Listening to the Stories of Mothers
The Theology and Inter-Church, Inter-Faith Committee extended the work of the Adoptions Task Group, listening again to stories of mothers and others affected by adoption practices. They considered the history of United Church maternity facilities and the changes in social context and mores that led to changes in practices of caring for women pregnant outside of marriage. Biblical stories of adoption were studied as well as statements the church had made regarding families and children. The committee encouraged honesty and truth-telling, understanding that keeping secrets, or blocking access to communities, harms children and families. They developed a Theology of Ethical Adoption and created an apology recognizing the church’s participation in separating mothers from their children and creating a culture of shame.