Affirming words from our friend Anne Squire

Testimony for Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble, by Anne Squire

On May 27, 2017, Emmanuel United Church in Ottawa became Affirming. At that celebration, the physical presence of a congregation member central to the Affirming process was missing. Here is that story, and words from that member. Anne Squire, presente. With us in Spirit.

Anne Squire's rainbow cape draped over her wheelchair; Emmanuel United Church's Affirming celebration, 27 May 2017. Anne had died on April 24.

Anne Squire’s rainbow cape draped over her wheelchair; Emmanuel United Church’s Affirming celebration, 27 May 2017. Anne had died on April 24.

Margaret Armstrong writes, “Anne Squire was at the founding of Affirm. At the Morden, MB General Council amid the clash of argument that led to the United Church agreeing to ordain gay ministers, a group of gay people and supporters met in a little room to found a group of people to affirm the place of gays within the United Church. Anne was there.

She had been a part of the church’s study of the theology of human sexuality and was then called to lead the Division of Education and Students that published that study that led to the policy tasked to help place the newly ordained. Eventually she was elected Moderator of the United Church, the first laywoman in that position.

Anne was a driving force in getting her church Emmanuel started on the Affirm process but shortly after beginning she had a massive stroke which made her wheelchair bound unable to see or write but did nothing to her mind or her commitment. She and her daughter Laurie wrote this testimony, which we read for her at a service as part of our process. She was able to be at the congregational meeting vote and moved the motion, which passed.

Anne was an amazing person, a great feminist, a progressive theologian, a Christian educator and a writer of Sunday school materials, among other things. She was firm in her commitment to Affirm and everything it stands for.

In the accompanying photo you see the wheelchair that stood at the front of our Affirming celebration with a rainbow cape. As the explanation in our bulletin explained, Anne always dressed up for Halloween since she met her wonderful husband Bill at a Halloween dance. Last year she asked her daughter to make her a rainbow cape and she could then explain its significance to those she met.

Unfortunately she died just before the celebration, which she had been looking forward to for so long.

We miss her.

This is her testimony.”

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“We are talking about safe places for people within the LGBTQ community. There also needs to be safe places for supporters. Sometimes people who are supporting the LGBTQ community also need to know that they are in safe places, not just in physical spaces but also emotionally and spiritually.

There is an old saying: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I learned at a very early age that this adage was not true. It was 1933 and I was just 13 when my father died. In those days funerals and receptions were held in the home. At the reception after the funeral, my little sister, June, was too young to know what had happened but she certainly knew something was wrong. When she began to cry I picked her up and sat with her in the rocking chair in the dining room and I began crying too. One of our relatives who had come for the funeral came and stood in front of me, shaking her finger at me. “Stop that crying”, she said. “You can’t be a crybaby now. You must be strong to help your mother.” I thought I was helping by taking care of June and I was deeply hurt by that word, “crybaby”.

It was much later- in the early 1980’s –when I learned again that words can hurt. By then, I was General Secretary of Ministry, Personnel and Education and I was receiving hundreds of letters a day objecting to the church’s study of sexual orientation and ministry.

I first became involved in this study because I was a member of the Education and Student’s Committee of the Ottawa Presbytery. At a meeting one day our chairperson came in and said, “Someone thinks there is a candidate for ordination in our Presbytery who is gay and the Presbytery wants to know if we would ordain him. Let’s vote”. I protested that I couldn’t vote on such an issue without first studying it. I suggested that if Presbytery wanted an answer to their question, that they should give us time and funds for a study. It agreed. We found ourselves at Stuart House in Packenham for a weekend of research and discussion. By the end of the two days we had come to the conclusion that there were no theological or policy reasons for refusing to ordain someone who was gay or lesbian. We added a rider that we did not think that the church was actually ready for this decision without further discussion and we recommended a church wide study. This led to the policy review mentioned earlier.

As General Secretary I was responsible for answering the mail that came into my Division. There was some supportive mail and these brought encouragement.

But the majority of the letters were against the sexual orientation study. They were vitriolic, and blamed me personally for the mess in the church. Some of the letters were from people that I had expected to support the cause and it made me sad to think that something that I thought was bringing the church into the present age was actually causing dissension.

I remember my secretary coming in holding a letter between her thumb and forefinger saying,” I don’t want to give you this one, but I have to.” It was a three page handwritten letter with the first page devoted to a list of things that the writer had done to help her church. The second page was a list of all the things that I had done to ruin the United Church: 1) introducing the New Curriculum for Christian Education, 2) my support for feminism and 3) my support for Project Ministry which outlined the theology and policies for ministry of the whole people within the United Church.

The third page said that the last straw for her was for the possible ordination of gay and lesbian people. She ended the letter by writing “My prayer is that you will be stricken with AIDS.” She signed it “Yours in Christ, Elizabeth”. This was the worst of all the letters I received.

One day the mail included a big box, with my name as recipient in care of the church, but no indication of the sender. One of my staff said, ”Don’t open it, Anne, it might be a bomb”. I looked at the faces surrounding the desk and I said, “We can’t live in fear this way. Open it”. And we did. Inside were two ten-inch cubes of acrylic and embedded in each was a metal rod that had been bent into Greek letter. One was Alpha and the other was Omega. When someone asked what this meant I said for me, it meant that God was with us at the beginning of our life and will be with us at the end.   I also felt that it meant that God was with us in this divisive project and would help guide us.”

We never did find out who sent the beautiful gifts, and they sat in my office at Church House for many years.

In answer now, in 2017, to the hurtful letter I say, “Yes, Elizabeth, I do have aids –but not the kind of aids you are talking about. My aids are Affirm, my family, my friends, and my faith.

Anne Squire