We affirm: A statement on the Orlando hate crime from Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble

14 June 2016

We do not have words for the mass murder carried out against our community last Sunday June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We do not have words for the 49 lives taken, the injured, the grieving families and friends and communities.

Many of us across Canada were celebrating Pride that weekend, and we welcomed a new Affirming ministry on Sunday.  We hold those victories and we feel the agony of the victims, the survivors, their families, and their communities, as well as the pain experienced by the first responders.

In the face of this violence which robbed us of so many young, diverse, beautiful spirits and bodies:

We affirm that the God who created us loves us unconditionally. God loves us as we are, and nothing can separate us from that love. We affirm that our identities are gifts from God, and to be treasured, not erased.

We affirm that LGBTQAI and Two-Spirit communities are resilient and strong, and will not allow ourselves to be cowed by hatred.  We are not going away. We will continue to celebrate the many wayswe express love privately and publicly, even in the face of oppression. We believe that God is a witness and celebrates all the ways LGBTQ people share their authentic selves with loved ones and community.

We affirm the importance of Pride, which is and has always been so much more than a party and a parade. Pride is resistance. It takes up beautiful, creative, colourful space in a society that continues to erase, marginalize, and assault us.

We affirm the importance of the love and solidarity shown in public and private by our heterosexual and cisgendered allies, families, friends. You are members of this movement too. Please continue to offer solidarity. It is needed.

We affirm that all struggles for justice are one, and so we reject Islamophobia completely. We refuse the temptation of racist blaming and commit to doing our own anti-racist work. We thank Muslim leaders for their rejection of this mass murder, and note that many Christian groups have not done so.

We affirm that homophobia and transphobia are expressions of hate and fear, not symptoms of “mental illness”.  Such ableist, discriminatory language and assumptions should never be directed at psychiatric survivors, or any people who are struggling for mental wellness.

We affirm that religious and non-religious people and groups alike share responsibility for the climate of hate and fear that continues to be directed at LGBTQ communities.

We affirm support for all who reject and work against male violence and toxic masculinity.

We affirm the critical importance of being and becoming Affirming. These spaces are utterly essential.  Recent human rights advances do not change this. We ask all ministries in the United Church of Canada and beyond to consider how you can become publicly, intentionally, and explicitly welcoming of all LGBTQ+ children of God. Saying you are “welcoming of all” is not sufficient.

We affirm the vital role of all Affirming ministries in offering pastoral care, safe space, liturgy, and public resistance to homophobia and transphobia. You offer life in the midst of death-dealing violence. We ask that you carefully and prayerfully consider what you can offer to your communities in this moment.

We thank all who are organizing vigils and protests, and giving us space to mourn, to be angry, and to express love. Thank you for your life-giving work.

And we affirm the need to grieve in our own ways, to sit with our fear and sadness, and to be gentle with one another.

We think of our family in the United States as they continue to struggle against not only hate, but against gun laws that enable horrific deaths and injuries.  Please tell us how we can support you.  We ask Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble supporters to share the statement offered by our counterpart, the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

Finally, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble thanks the United Church of Canada and the Moderator for their thoughtful and challenging response to this mass murder.

We too echo the words of Jeremiah:

O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
—Jeremiah 9:1

— Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble, 14 June 2016.

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble works for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in The United Church of Canada and in society. Our program helps ministries of every kind become publicly, intentionally, and explicitly welcoming of the LGBTQQIA+ and Two-Spirit communities.   www.ause.ca

Now on to being further “Affirming”! Westminster United, Whitby ON

By Paul Kneebone, Affirming Ministry team member at Westminster United

Westminster United Church in Whitby, ON is pleased to announce that they are now officially an Affirming congregation.  Now onto to further “being affirming”!

A number of folks at Westminster first met informally in March-April 2014.  This was after some of us had attended an Affirm United-sponsored workshop at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church in Pickering in January/2014.  A-Team members also subsequently attended other all-day Affirming workshops in Kingston and Peterborough that were held by Bay of Quinte Conference, itself an Affirming ministry. Continue reading

AU/SE July 2016 Annual Conference


Our 2016 annual conference in Ottawa is now complete! We welcomed over 100 attendees and global partners; we shared in theatre, worship, song, workshops, and words of challenge and affirmation.

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble offers profound gratitude to the Ottawa annual conference planning team. From the details of homemade muffins to the big picture of an integrated and thoughtful theme on trans* identities and rights, you offered us a safe, questioning, sacred space. Your hard work and generous spirits created a “kairos” moment for our movement, and we are deeply grateful for your months and months of labour and planning.

The same is true for the many facilitators, theme speakers, ceremonial leaders, worship leaders, singers, and actors who brought us words of life and welcomed us to Algonquin traditional territory. Thank you for renewing our spirits and challenging us to expand our knowledge and worldview.

And we thank all of the participants, especially those new to the movement. Thank you for taking the risk of moving into a new space to be with us, and for challenging us to be more widely and deeply welcoming.

Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble also thanks the global partners of the United Church of Canada for joining us to discuss LGBTQ rights and theology. Representatives joined us from the Middle East Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the World Student Christian Federation, the Methodist Church in Argentina, and the only Metropolitan Community Church in Cuba.

Have a look at our conference photo album on Facebook. And please circle the dates for 2017: July 28-30. Watch our website for the location, and sign up for our newsletter so you can get your own invitation to the conference.


Spring greetings from your co-chairs

Our February 2016 Council meeting in Toronto covered a lot of ground.

We welcomed new members Chris Mann (BC), David Cathcart (BC), and Cindy Bourgeois (SK) to their first in-person Council meeting.  We missed the presence of new Council member Serena Patterson (BC). We were especially pleased to welcome Cindy Bourgeois as secretary and member of the Executive.

Your 2016 Council:  Front, left-right: Michiko Bown-Kai (co-chair) and David Cathcart.   Second row: Jen Carter-Morgan, Judy Amsbury, Chris Mann, Jordan Sullivan (General Council staff).   Back: Julie Graham (AUSE staff), Collin Smith (co-chair), Warren MacDougall, Jenni Leslie, John Calhoun, Cindy Bourgeois, Marco Ste-Marie.

Your 2016 Council:

Front, left-right: Michiko Bown-Kai (co-chair) and David Cathcart.

Second row: Jen Carter-Morgan, Judy Amsbury, Chris Mann, Jordan Sullivan (General Council staff).

Back: Julie Graham (AUSE staff), Collin Smith (co-chair), Warren MacDougall, Jenni Leslie, John Calhoun, Cindy Bourgeois, Marco Ste-Marie.

We also appreciated our conversation with the Moderator of the United Church, Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell. And we welcomed our time with Jordan Sullivan, who is our staff connection in the General Council office.

We are thrilled to see that Continue reading

Witnessing courage: Our Korean partner, Sumdol Hyanglin church

The United Church of Canada is unique to the Canadian context, but it holds a global identity through a wide range of church partners who share in common traditions or ministries. One of the United Church’s longest-running partnerships is with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, a relationship which moved closer to full communion at last summer’s General Council meeting.

This is a significant relationship for both churches; as United Church members accompany the PROK in its justice work, PROK members have been involved in the United Church’s own work on intercultural ministries and the intersections of racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Across and between both churches, there is an ongoing exchange of students, clergy, and ideas; in the fall of 2015, River Bend Presbytery, an Affirming ministry in Saskatoon, sent a delegation to Incheon Presbytery as part of a long-term commitment to deepening relationships with our partner church.

Rev. Laura Fouhse ministers at McClure United Church in Saskatoon, which became an Affirming ministry early this year. She writes, “In November of 2015 I travelled to South Korea with a group from my River Bend Presbytery in Saskatchewan in a continued effort to build a partnership with the Incheon Presbytery in the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (the PROK).

During our visit, we heard of a PROK congregation in Seoul that was welcoming of LGBT folks.  We learned that this congregation was under constant persecution from the wider church, and the secular community, so decided to take a trip into Seoul to visit and offer our support. Continue reading

LGBTI Human Rights Defenders at risk in South Korea

5th November 2015
by Suh Yeon Chang

Hello, My name is Suh Yeon Chang. I’m a human rights lawyer and LGBTI activist from South Korea. I want to thank you to have this opportunity to talk about the LGBTI human rights defenders’ situation in South Korea.

First of all, I’d like to tell you about LGBTI rights situation. This activism started over 20 years ago, and we have seen many institutional changes, incidents, and movements including the National Human Rights Commission Act in 2001, and the legal gender recognition of transgender people in the Supreme Court in 2006.

But backlash by anti-LGBTI Christian groups became stronger since 2007. In 2007, these groups pressured the Ministry of Justice to delete “sexual orientation” from the grounds of discrimination in the Anti-Discrimination Bill. To my surprise, the Ministry indeed deleted “sexual orientation” from the Bill. But finally it didn’t pass, because opposition groups were against the actual Bill itself. As consequence, there’s no Anti-Discrimination Act in Korea.

Since the failure to legislate the act in 2007, anti-LGBTI Christian groups became more and more aggressive. Continue reading

Opportunities to welcome LGBTQ refugees

Long before the suffering of millions of Syrian refugees finally reached the mainstream media, Canadian groups were sponsoring people seeking refuge from around the world. For decades, United Church congregations have been part of an innovative sponsorship option offered by the federal government and the national United Church; any local church can offer to support one or more refugees for at least one year, and in so doing opens the door to their coming to Canada. Continue reading

New support for transgender members of the UC’s Benefits Plan

Good news! Trans* members of the United Church’s benefits plan have new benefits and rights.

In 2009, the United Church created a Trans and Gender Diversity Task Group (2009-2011). Their final report  in early 2012 asked the church to “research the cost of providing extended physical and mental health coverage for persons in gender transition who are employed by the United Church of Canada, and to make the coverage available.”

After a lot of work by many current and former staff, the Executive of the General Council approved the recommendation from the Permanent Committee on Ministry and Employment Policies and Services to extend some financial support for benefit plan members who are transgender and are transitioning. Working in combination with provincial health care, the financial support will be administered via Green Shield.

Plan members who want more information are encouraged to e-mail:
MinistryandEmployment@united-church.ca  The Ministry and Employment staff would appreciate hearing back about things they can improve on, and what things are well done. They want to ensure the best experience possible for Plan members and their dependents. So please help them out!

Safe, strong, and Affirming: Artemis Housing Co-op, Winnipeg

Young United Church is an Affirming ministry in Winnipeg that carries the Affirming message into unique community and ecumenical partnerships.  It shares Crossways in Common with Hope Mennonite Church, and both share in Artemis Housing Co-op Inc, an associated ministry  in the Crossway’s shared building.

Artemis’  “collective purpose is to continue to meet the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the West Broadway Community. We partner with Young United Church, Hope Mennonite Church, Day Nursery, West Broadway Youth, and West Broadway Community Ministry.

At Artemis we provide apartments to people with HIV+/AIDS and their families; cancer; and other medical struggles. We have a clean, safe, comfortable environment and we can all use the spiritual sharing of the two churches: Hope Mennonite and Young United as well as the programs of West Broadway Community Ministry. Artemis is grateful to have a strong, safe and comfortable place to call home.”

Former board chair Michael Kurek explains, “The majority of the residents at Artemis are gay. At the Young United service on Sunday morning, there are usually five residents that attend, most of them taking responsibility for certain details like setting up the “table” with candle and book, taking up the collection, greeting, and more. After the service at Young, we have a light lunch of sandwiches and cupcakes to which even more residents come down as part of our extended community. When our board president says that Crossways is a “safe and comfortable” place, he’s also referring to spiritual milieu created by Young United and West Broadway Community Ministry as Affirming places.”

Being Affirming is a diverse expression of safety, affirmation, and love. Thank you to Artemis, Young United, and Crossways in Common for being a living reminder of that.