The Canadians headed north. From the Strait of Georgia in the West to Newfoundland’s Conception Bay in the East, from the distant Maritimes, Cartier’s French-accented St. Lawrence country, Ontario’s southward-jutting industrial wedge, the banks of the Assiniboine, from the measureless prairies and towering Rockies they came, some 400 of them. They were commissioners of the United Church of Canada, their nation’s largest Protestant communion—more than 1,000,000 adult communicants—and for the first time their General Council meeting brought them to the fast-growing northern city of Edmonton, Alberta. Site of the nineteenth meeting of their highest court was the red brick McDougall United Church overlooking the wooded banks of the North Saskatchewan River which, like some northern Danube, winds through prairie country where nineteenth-century Methodist missionary George McDougall labored so well among Blackfeet, Crees, and Stonys as to be largely credited with the absence of Indian wars in the area.

After sending an “Address of Loyalty” to the Queen, in which the Council pledged “allegiance to the Throne and Your Person,” the commissioners sought fulfillment of their appointed task “to enact such legislation and adopt such measures as may tend to promote true godliness, repress immorality, preserve the unity and well-being of the Church, and advance the Kingdom of Christ throughout the world.”

Commission reports produced only a moderate amount of debate, carried on in accents somehow reminiscent of a distant skirl of bagpipes. These were among the major issues:

Alcohol. The United Church has a strong tradition favoring total abstinence, unsuccessful efforts having been made in the past to condition church membership upon abstention. ...

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