On May 8 2019, AUSE Council member Rev Cindy Bourgeois received the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award from United Theological College (Montreal). Congratulations, Cindy! We celebrate with you and celebrate the many gifts you bring to our shared movement. Here’s the citation, offered by Alyson Huntly, a longtime leader in our Affirming movement.
“Craig Chaplin created this award to recognize the ministry, gifts, and witness of those who are openly LGBTQ2, “To honour those whose life’s work has been distinguished by embodiment of such central gospel values as courage and integrity, life affirming faith, and unswerving commitment to justice and solidarity with those who are marginalized. “
I met Cindy Bourgeois in 2009, during her internship at First United Church, Ottawa. Members of the congregation remember Cindy well, recalling how open-hearted and generous Cindy was as she patiently helped the congregation stretch its understanding of trans women:
- Her humour and persistence
Her deep spirituality
- Her dynamic preaching
- Her special gift for ministering to those who felt marginalized
- Her connection to children and youth; her connection to seniors
- And most of all, how privileged people felt to know her!
Cindy was born in Winnipeg and grew up there. She studied and worked in computer science, and later as a Toronto business owner, teaching programming to children. In 2000, Cindy started her transition to life as a woman. An important aspect of transition is finding safe places to be out. Cindy found one such place at Emmanuel Howard Park United in Toronto. Cindy says she “Came to church for the community but stayed for the Christ!”
At Emmanuel Howard Park, Cindy started reading the Bible and discovered Jesus’ love for the poor and the oppressed. That was just the beginning of her theological studies. She went on to earn a Master of Divinity at Emmanuel College, Toronto. And in 2010, Cindy became the first openly trans person to be ordained in the United Church of Canada. She ministered first at Central United, in Stratford Ontario. And for the past six years at Wesley United, Regina.
Cindy’s ministry is shaped by her experiences as a trans woman:
“I think I understand what it is to be outcast,” she says, “Which is so much of what Jesus ministry was. As a trans person you occupy a space where you don’t quite fit in; and that really is a kind of sacred space. I think it gives me a deep connection to the spirit.”
That is indeed an incredible gift, to inhabit and make sacred space on the margins—sacred space in which all can experience the love, justice, and presence of Christ.
In her ministry of advocacy and justice-making, Cindy speaks out about the ridicule, insult, assault, discrimination, and erasure that trans people experience. She offers support for trans theological students, as well as education in congregations that she calls “trans 101” – opening her experience to others to help heal blindness and intolerance.
She is currently national secretary of Affirm United. She speaks at conferences and serves on committees. And in her congregational ministry she offers compassionate, prophetic, and wise pastoral leadership.
Her preaching and writing and speaking proclaim the brokenness of the world in all its forms – but equally call us to participate in God’s saving love. For Cindy, God’s kin-dom, is not far off event but a way of living in community where all are valued and loved.
Mr. Chair, for her ministry as a prophetic witness to Christ’s liberating love, I present to you the Rev. Cindy Bourgeois to receive the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award, 2019.”