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 “Spruce Grove Gay Straight Alliance on the difference a church made”

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 “National ecumenical consultation of affirming ministries, April 2019”

PIE video- more about the hosts and ministries!

People have been asking about the hosts of our new video, who take us through what PIE means, and spend a lot of time eating pie. And our new 15 minute free video on a Public, Intentional, and Explicit welcome for LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people also features five Affirming ministries from BC, Alberta, Ontario, and PEI. Learn more about them all here! (What’s “Affirming”? Learn more here.)

Running time: 15 minutes. Download or stream and enjoy: https://vimeo.com/320966739

Thank you to Gifts with Vision and all who support Affirming Connections and Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble with your time, love, and resources. Read on to get to know our storytellers, and please share the video widely.


Continue reading “PIE video- more about the hosts and ministries!”

Why P.I.E? at Kamloops United Church

A talk offered by Christine Dolson March 17 for Affirming PIE Day 2019 (drawing the circle wide on or after Pi Day and exploring Public, Intentional, and Explicit celebration/ welcome of LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people.)

Good morning!

As you can see we have a bit of a pastry situation going on.

I want to talk to you about pie, all kinds of pie and about some of our pie practices around here.

Affirm United is the national organization that works for the full inclusion of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations in the United Church, and in wider society. They help ministries to become truly welcoming safer sacred spaces. In 2019, to have a little fun and build awareness, they declared that March 14 would be National Affirming Pie Day. Today, belatedly, KUC is celebrating PIE day.

Why PIE ? Well… Public; Intentional; Explicit is the standard for an affirming welcome of LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit people. Two-spirit is a uniquely Indigenous identity.

Why Pi?    Love is a circle. It’s irrational, inclusive and infinite. So why not add that affirming twist to International Pi Day celebrations on March 14?

Why pie? …Why not?  Pie makes everything better!

So let’s slice up some PIE. Continue reading “Why P.I.E? at Kamloops United Church”

A great example of an inclusive marriage policy

Trinity United Church in Cannington, ON will become an Affirming ministry in the spring of 2019. As part of this journey, they’ve met the requirement of having an inclusive marriage policy- and they’ve met it with some inclusive and very clear wording. Affirm United/  S’affirmer Ensemble is often asked for examples of the kind of policies created by Affirming ministries or ministries in the process. Here you go! Trinity United Church-Cannington Inclusive Marriage Policy (PDF).

Uplifted as equal- becoming Affirming at Gower St United Church, NL

Note from Affirm United: On January 27 2019, Gower Street United Church in St. John’s NL voted to become Affirming. They will become the first Affirming ministry on the island, joining Labrador City on the mainland in Labrador. And great will be the rejoicing! Many thanks to Larry Kelly for his permission to share his words. 

Reflection by Larry Kelly – January 13, 2019, Gower St United Church in St. John’s NL

Good Morning! Last Sunday Lorne spoke about the differences between welcoming and affirming congregations. This morning’s affirm message speaks to why affirming congregations may be more important now than ever. Continue reading “Uplifted as equal- becoming Affirming at Gower St United Church, NL”

Sponsoring LGBTQIA refugees- a call from the United Church

Many Canadian Christians know that churches are a key part of support and sponsorship for people seeking refuge in Canada. Together, we see this as living out the gospel and prophetic call to seek justice and offer healing. But when we focus on LGBTQIA+ refugees, the picture changes radically. Did you know the United Church of Canada is one of the very few faith based Sponsorship Agreement Holders within Canada’s LGBTQ refugee program? And that there are more LGBTQIA people seeking refuge than there are sponsors?

Here’s where you come in. You can help change this. Please have a look at the United Church’s excellent new LGBTQIA refugee web resources, dedicated to helping increase the number of ministries who will sponsor LGBTQIA people in need of safety and security. Scroll down for their summary PDFs and download them to share. Then: Continue reading “Sponsoring LGBTQIA refugees- a call from the United Church”

Why I’m an Affirm United member-Emma Pipes

Rev. Emma  Pipes is one of AUSE’s awesome Council members. She serves Knox pastoral charge in Caledon, ON. She’s kicking off our series of stories on why people choose to become members of Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble. Are you a member who’s happy to tell our wider family why you made that decision? Write to our communications coordinator and we’ll post your story! Wonder why becoming a member makes a difference? Read more here

Why am I a member of Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble?

I often find myself moving between places and people.

Sometimes people ask me to get on board with what is going on already and often I can do that.  However, there is something special about people who are working together to figure everything out as it happens around them. Sometimes this can be challenging, but I really like being in the midst of conversation about the world and its realities.  I especially find meaning in working together to reduce oppression and hatred the world through a variety of ways especially for LGBTQ2+ people.

Being part of Affirm United gives me a forum to continue asking questions, learning and engaging with real people and their stories on a very real level as well as being a part of decisions that would affect change in the world. I care that the voice of those who would identify as part of the LGBTQ2+ community would be heard and valued in the church and wider world as years go on.