“A moment of grace, gently nudging us to a ‘great transformation’”: In Memory of Reverend Dr. Bill Phipps

When he became the 36th Moderator of the United Church of Canada in 1997, The Very Reverend Dr. Bill Phipps used the opportunity to launch the cross-Canada Moderator’s Consultation on Faith and The Economy, an attempt to engage Canadians in conversation about “what we value”.

He wrote that a “moral economy is one where everyone is included in the social and economic well-being without the earth being destroyed in the process.” He decried “rampant speculation and diminishing democratic accountability” which resulted “in an obscene concentration of wealth for the few, and hopeless poverty for the many.”

The Moderator’s Consultation was designed to bring economic justice to the heart of the church’s mission, to shift conversations away from individual morality towards the more pressing question of the common good, towards developing a “compelling, compassionate vision of our economic order that respects human life and cares for the earth.”

Within his first year as Moderator Bill delivered the United Church’s apology to Indigenous peoples for the horrific abuse suffered in residential schools run by the church. As he delivered it, condemning the “evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused”, he expressed his hope not just that the apology for past actions would be heard, but that Indigenous people “will witness the living out of our apology in our actions in the future”, committing the church and its people to act for justice. His own decades of work with Indigenous peoples both before and after the apology was testament to his commitment.

When Bill formally retired – though if anything, he was more busy than ever – he co-founded Faith & the Common Good, a cross-Canada network of religious institutions and activists taking on the pressing challenge of climate change and ecological justice.

He continued to work for climate justice until his death on March 4th of this year. On my last visit with him, even as he entered his last days in palliative care, Bill was still in touch with colleagues, helping to organize workshops on climate justice and “eco-commoning”, ones he knew he would not be alive to attend.

From the above, it should be obvious why Bill’s example has been influential for SHARE and our networks.

The influence of his advocacy, writing and organizing on the issues that we tackle together is clear; in fact one of the people that led the work of the Moderator’s Consultation, Moira Hutchinson, was central to the creation of SHARE a couple of years later in 2000.

But Bill was also my beloved uncle, and a lifelong mentor.

He was a tireless advocate for communities working together to address racism, ecological crises, right relations with Indigenous peoples, and building a moral economy, a shining example of activism, dedication, and caring for creation that inspired and engaged people across Canada and internationally.

His challenge, to re-discover what we truly value in our economic life together, has been a guidepost for my work with SHARE. I have always relied on his wisdom, creativity, persistence, and deep-felt caring as a barometer for my own life and work. Most importantly, I recognized an example to live up to. It has always been my hope that our work at SHARE could build on the important work he was doing to address climate change, reconciliation, anti-racism and economic justice.

As we wrapped up our 2022 Investor Summit on the very day Bill died, I joined in discussions with several of the asset owner caucuses that make up our SHARE networks, and in one, led by religious institutional investors, I shared a quote on the question of “hope” – whether, in these dark days of war and ecological crisis, there is cause for hope. The quote I shared came from Bill’s book of the same name, “Cause for Hope”, which I believe is useful in framing why we can and should have hope for the future. He said:

“Indeed, these are exciting days, because we can make choices. These are days of privilege, because we can rise to the challenge and declare our true beliefs; we can understand our deep spiritual yearnings, and connect the dots of what we say we believe, to the dots of how we actually live. If we are open to the Spirit hovering over and within our lives, we can experience the current crossroads as a moment of grace, gently nudging us to a ‘great transformation’.”

That opportunity to rise to the challenge, to make choices, and to transform our world, is what drives our work here.

I miss Bill tremendously. But I know our whole team here at SHARE will carry on the work of building a moral economy with their own dedication, caring, passion and persistence.

There’s no better way I know to honour his memory.

Kevin Thomas
Written By:

Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education. Kevin joined SHARE in 2013 as a Senior Analyst on social issues and became Executive Director in 2018.

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