Action invitation: support bans on conversion therapy

Protest against “conversion” “therapy” in Edmonton, Alberta, by local citizens, including church members.

Federal government to work on criminalizing “conversion therapy”: our support for this and other initiatives needed

In the spring of 2019 many in our movement were disappointed when the federal government (a Liberal majority) said that it could not ban conversion therapy through Health Canada. It cited health as a provincial jurisdiction. (What is “conversion” “therapy”? See this overview from CBC.)

Many turned to, or continued, working with their municipalities, provinces, and territories, asking them to follow MB and ON’s lead and outright ban this deeply harmful practice. As one example, in December Edmonton city council prepared to debate a ban within the city, as Alberta has not banned such “therapy” and indeed, more than a few in the province and its government support it.

Thank you to all, including many AUSE members, who are carrying this struggle forward. Special thanks to Gary Simpson in Edmonton for his research, advocacy, and advice.

In December 2019, the now-Liberal minority government said it would move to place conversion or reparative therapy in the Criminal Code, making the practice illegal and punishable.

As some in our Affirming movement reminded us, we need to speak out in support of this, although we also need to be aware that the proposal has some problems and limits. For example, the proposed Criminal Code amendment would only apply to minors, and this may be the only way such an amendment would be permitted under the Charter.

Whatever the advocacy options, whether national or local, we know that our advocacy and education efforts are important and much-needed.  We must continue to advocate for regional and local responses, like the one currently before Calgary’s council. And we need to make it clear to our faith communities that conversion therapy is alive and in practice across Canada to this day.

Yet the federal government’s proposal is one promising step forward. And the mostly Christian groups who support this abusive practice will be sure to be in loud opposition. Please read up on the government’s plans, and then if you are so moved, contact your Member of Parliament, no matter their party, and briefly express your support for this measure and your opposition to so-called conversion therapy. If you identify as a church member or Christian, also make that clear to your MP. Consider asking your community of faith, congregation, or parish to write such a letter.

If you’re a United Church member, remember that your Regional Council is one place to advocate, and that proposals for advocacy initiatives is an important way to move church policy or motivate action. Such proposals should be consider now for regional gatherings in May and June.

We need an end to this Christian-justified, cissexist, heterosexist abuse. Please add your voice where you can.

Announcing PIE Day 2020, 14 March!

Public+Intentional+Explicit= PIE. These are our standards for the full inclusion and celebration of LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people. Get your recipes/ ice cream/ creative planning tools ready. PIE Day 2020, Saturday March 14, is happening!

Here’s the national Facebook event. And we’re constantly updating our online home, www.pieday.ca . There are already lots of free planning resources and ready-to-use graphics posted. Remember that the free 15 minute PIE Day video is still as fresh as ever- and we’re delighted to announce that three shorter versions will be available for free download too! No day olds here! At pieday.ca you’ll also find a form for registering your event, so please make sure you sign up your extravaganza.

All can participate: you do not need to be part of an Affirming ministry; you don’t need to be United Church; and pie substitutes are welcome. You just need to be enthusiastic or curious about a Public, Intentional, and Explicit celebration of diverse genders and sexualities in your community and place of worship. That’s all. Have at it!

This year we hope to draw the circle wider, with a stronger ecumenical and interfaith focus. Much more info to come- mark your calendars, dream of dessert, and start discerning how you can spread PIE love in your community!

Affirming building use and rental policies

Our faith is about so much more than our buildings. Yet our buildings and camps are also important spiritual and physical spaces that house not only our own ministries, but many other vital community initiatives too. Many Affirming ministries own their own building or facility, and in the course of their Affirming journey they generally add more inclusive spaces, such as all-gender washrooms, space for smudges and other Indigenous ceremony, wheelchair ramps, technology for the deaf and hard of hearing, and more. It’s an ongoing process that never really stops.

Most also rent the space to other groups. What, then, does an Affirming use of the building for everyone look like? What happens if a group opposed to LGBTQIA+ rights and identities wants to rent the space? What does safer space look like? Here’s one example of a policy and commitment from Trinity United Church, a rural congregation in Cannington ON. Download their building rental policy PDF here

Does your ministry have an Affirming building use or rental policy and resources? Let us know! Contact the Communications Coordinator here and send it on, so we can add to our community resources.

FREE United Church worship and education resources for our Affirming journeys

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble is a grassroots network that relies on many partnerships in its core work of advocating for and supporting safer sacred spaces. Our family tree includes communities of many different paths and traditions; our roots are mostly United Church. We welcome the solidarity and support shown by the United Church’s General Council office as together we’ve widened the range of resources that support the discernment, practice, and prayer in which any Affirming journey is grounded. Read on for some new and renewed resources. Thank you for your gifts to the Mission and Service fund, which made these resources possible.

Relaunch! Celebrating Gender Diversity Toolkit
This excellent and widely used resource has been completely updated and is (still) completely free. It’s essential, even life-saving, that our sacred spaces celebrate the gifts trans, non-binary, genderqueer, and Two Spirit people bring to our faith and community life. This comprehensive toolkit gives you many, many practical avenues for change in your ministry. Please download your copy, whether you’re Affirming, on the journey, or not there yet. There is always something positive we can do. Looking for yet more resources? See the entire range of options.

The Affirming Journey:
 Mandate magazine

This special issue, from Spring 2018, focuses on LGBTQI+ and Two-Spirit justice. Inside you’ll find articles on why the United Church’s Affirming journey has only just begun; intersectionality; chronicling the impact of 1988; a timeline of LGBTIQ2S+ justice in the United Church; a glossary of key terms and concepts; as well as worship resources, a Bible study, workshops, youth programing, and more—all moving toward affirming, healing, and renewal for all.

United Church Resource Distribution (UCRD) has graciously provided us with a complimentary special digitalized issue of Mandate’s “The Affirming Journey” from Spring 2018. To request your copy, please email jsullivan@united-church.ca or communications@ause.ca. An email will be sent to you with a link to where you can view and/or download this special issue.

Video: Two Spirit powwow and the Healing Fund, plus many other videos
In the spring of 2018, Indigenous and community groups in Saskatoon held a Two Spirit powwow. One of the first of its kind, and possibly the first in Canada, it was deeply important circle of spirit and prayer. The United Church was honoured to support this work through the Healing Fund. Mission and Service offers us this 3 minute video on the powwow and its importance. Please share during worship and/ or community times in your ministry, adding this resource to AUSE’s 2019 PIE Day video and to many videos from Affirming ministries.

PIE Day 2020 and Pride Sunday 2020
On March 14 Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble will once again offer resources to help you have fun with pie and with PIE: how to offer a Public, Intentional, and Explicit welcome to people with diverse genders and sexualities. Watch www.pieday.ca The United Church will be part of promoting this second annual day of serious fun, serious dessert, and serious discernment and commitment. And on Sunday June 7 the church is invited to again celebrate Pride Sunday. Mark your 2020 calendars!

2018 annual report available now!

Are you a super-supporter of Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble? A keener? A generous donor? An avid reader of reports about truly amazing cross-Canada work? Then this soon-to-be bestseller is for you!
Our annual report, covering highlights and accountability reports for 2018 and the first half of 2019, is available now, right here. Enjoy stories and photos that show not only the range of work we’re about- but show you how important your support is. Thank you for all the love-affirming ministry you’ve offered our movement through your gifts of time, skill, experience, and financial support. Onward to the rest of 2019!

Is an Affirming journey even needed? Four voices

From a thread on the United Church of Canada Facebook group, spring 2019. The post related to the United Methodist Church’s March 2019 decision to renew its ban on LGBTQIA+ clergy and equal marriage.

Part of the conversation turned to the Affirming process in the United Church: whether it should be a priority since the perception is that the whole church is “already welcoming”; whether it was accessible to congregations who struggle with a lack of volunteers; or whether it’s needed at all. Different opinions about how welcoming our United Church ministries really are were expressed, and debate offered up. Here are some stories from responders in that conversation, used with permission. Please note that they are speaking from their personal experiences, and not speaking on behalf of the ministries they serve.

Leigh Sinclair (Minister, Robertson-Wesley United Church, Edmonton AB): I have been in affirming congregations and welcoming congregations. There is a difference. How often do we preach love from the pulpit, how much do we discuss each marriage request and most importantly are we telling the community we live in what we believe on the outside of our building or in the safety of our hearts? The harm done by the Christian faith towards the LGTBQ communities can only be atoned for when love is shared as publically as it once proclaimed hate. Continue reading

Gower Street United Church: the island of Newfoundland’s first Affirming ministry

By Larry Kelly (See also “Uplifted as Equal”: Larry’s reflection offered at Gower Street before their Affirming vote.) Photos by Martina Bennett, with thanks.

It’s official! Gower Street United Church is an Affirming Community of Faith in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. On June 5, 2019 the congregation hosted a public celebration to recognize its Affirming status. It seemed fitting that Gower, the oldest United Church congregation in the province, dating back more than 200 years, was publicly affirming its commitment to inclusivity, equity and justice for all God’s children, including those of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

The air seemed electrified with the beautiful sounds of What the World Needs Now is Love, played by the Gower Community Band while approximately 300 jubilant congregants and special guests filed past two progress pride flags at the main entrance and into the sanctuary, but not before stopping to pet St. John Ambulance therapy dogs and chat with their owners. Sunday school children offered pride colored crosses that they made and painted during the previous week.

Special guest choirs, The Stella Burry Inclusion Choir and Spectrum Queer Choir, as well as the Gower Youth Choir and the Gower Senior Choir, settled into place as the official celebration began with the playing of the Royal Salute to welcome their Honours, The Honourable Judy May Foote, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Mr. Howard Foote.

A procession of youth and parents followed carrying pride flags while the congregation sang Let us Build a House. The pride candle was lit for the first time by a young girl, Naomi Addison, with the support of her family.

The Lieutenant Governor. (Photo: Martina Bennett)

The order of celebration included thought-provoking and encouraging words of inclusion from Her Honour, carefully selected musical pieces, an inspirational address by guest speaker, Mr. Remzi Cej, a man of Muslim faith, Kosovar refugee, Rhodes Scholar, LGBTQ activist, and human rights award winner. Rev. Pamela Jones- Fitzgerald’s welcome and inclusive words were, as usual, a moment of pride for the congregation. An uplifting message from the Moderator of The United Church of Canada, The Right Reverend Dr. Richard Bott was read by the 37th Moderator of The United Church of Canada, The Very Rev. Dr. Marion Pardy.

The celebration continued with a reception, cutting of the Affirm cake and continued fellowship with old and new friends over tea and sweets.

Our Affirming journey has begun, and while we aren’t sure where it will lead us, we are confident that we are on the right path: God’s path to living out our mission of full inclusion, justice, and equity for all.

Spruce Grove Gay Straight Alliance on the difference a church made

Affirming Connections in Calgary writes, “We want to cheer on that St. Andrew’s United Spruce Grove celebrated becoming an Affirming Ministry on Sunday, April 28!

We received a letter from Spruce Grove GSA Society about their affirming experience with St. Andrews, and it’s amazing – we wanted to share it with you.”

Additional context: St Andrew’s Affirming celebration took place days after Alberta decided on a new provincial government. Alberta’s United Conservative Party won the election, and it had campaigned in part on removing privacy protections that allowed schools to not inform parents when a student joined a GSA.

From Spruce Grove GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) Society:
“In January 2018 the Spruce Grove GSA had its very first meeting. Unfortunately for our next meeting, in February, we suddenly found ourselves homeless. I had approximately three weeks to find somewhere to host our youth! I was heartbroken, devastated and crushed. What would I tell our kids, the parents, what would I tell Spruce Grove… our community GSA has suddenly come to a crushing halt.

A friend referred me to Connie Archer from St. Andrew’s United Church. I called her up and she agreed to meet with me at the church the next day.

Continue reading

National ecumenical consultation of affirming ministries, April 2019

Jordan Sullivan, is the Ministry Partnership Animator for the United Church of Canada, and a bridge builder between Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble and the wider United Church. He and AUSE co-chair Michiko Bown-Kai were involved with a recent ecumenical national consultation of Christian denominations about their work towards being truly LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit-welcoming.

He writes, “I am so very grateful for the courageous, faithful, and committed people involved in LGBTQIA2S+ Justice work among their respective faith communities across Canada.

Continue reading