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.