The United Church of Canada (UCC) has a new leader, and for the first time in the denomination's history, it is an Indigenous woman.

The United Church of Canada announced on Saturday afternoon, that it has officially elected the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, Kwisa’lakw, 47, as its 44th Moderator.

"To build new connections and rebuild old ones," is how Lansdowne describes her vision for the UCC. "To work towards social change that sees a world cared for, and human dignity honoured. To walk together every day in repentance and reconciliation. To march and fight and change unjust systems together. To pray together. To sing together. To discern together."

Lansdowne is the second Indigenous person to be elected Moderator of the UCC. The Very Rev. Stan McKay served as Moderator 1992‒1994. She is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, and was born in Alert Bay, B.C. "She has been a lifelong member of the United Church. She is committed to an Indigenous way of being in the world," the UCC says.

Lansdowne was the only nominee for the denomination's Moderator, and will be installed at a worship service on August 7 at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver.

Her history-making election as an Indigenous Christian leader comes just one day before Pope Francis arrives in Edmonton and is expected to make an apology for the Roman Catholic Church's role in Indian Residential Schools.

The UCC officially apologized for its role in the schools on August 15, 1986, and was the first Canadian denomination to do so. It ran 15 schools throughout the country over the course of their operation. The denomination also issued a second apology in 1998 following complaints that its first apology did not clearly accept responsibility as the United Church of Canada.

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Lansdowne was ordained in 2007 and holds a PhD from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She is currently the Executive Director of First United Church Community Ministry Society, which serves the people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The denomination's General Secretary the Rev. Michael Blair spoke of “great excitement across the church” at the election of the Rev. Dr. Lansdowne, saying, “She embodies the deep spirituality, bold discipleship, and daring justice to which the church aspires.”

She will replace the Right Rev. Dr. Richard Bott as Moderator. “I look forward to supporting our new Moderator as she leads the church in this critical time," Bott says. "A powerful voice, Moderator-elect Lansdowne will bring lived experience, wisdom, and an abundance of gifts to lead needed transformation in the church and the world."

Lansdowne will serve as the denomination's spiritual leader for the next three years.