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

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 “Witnessing courage: Our Korean partner, Sumdol Hyanglin church”

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 “Opportunities to welcome LGBTQ refugees”

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.

First-St. Andrew’s United Church First Annual Pride Parade Party

First-St. Andrew’s United Church in London, ON became Affirming this year, and launched their public work in style. Anne Cummings of the congregation’s LGBTQ Committee writes,
“What a grand time we had at the first annual Pride Parade Party on the lawn of First-St. Andrew’s United Church in London, Ontario on July 26. Because the route for London’s Pride Parade passed in front of our church, this event was organized as a way to welcome community members to our church. Some members of other United churches in the area also joined us. A hotdog lunch was served and it is estimated that we fed about 150 people. We asked for a freewill donation for the lunch with the proceeds going to the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection in London. A festive atmosphere was created with games for the children that included water, face paint, and lots of movement.

First-StAndrewsUCLondon-churchPridesign2015Once the parade reached our lawn, our youth were busy giving cups of lemonade and water to the marchers who were very appreciative because of the heat on the parade route. We also welcomed the marchers with our church sign which read, “We are a welcoming church with reserved seats for all. We are inclusive and affirming. This week we celebrate gay pride.”

Marching with our church banner were 16 of our members, including our Reverend Michelle Down. Many of the marchers wore church t-shirts with the rainbow Affirm logo on the front, our church logo on the back, and the words, “Welcoming All.” Our contingent was led by a car that was decorated with rainbow coloured balloons and had a playlist of joyous, affirming songs booming from the speakers. Plans are already underway for a bigger and better lawn party for next year’s Pride Parade.”

StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom

As spring emerges and the end of the 2015 school year approaches, the sight of smiling teens emerging from limousines dressed to the nines with corsages and carefully coiffed hair becomes commonplace. As teenagers, we are taught that our high school prom is meant to be the pinnacle of our high school experience, a celebration of all the hard work and growing that we have done. However, this is not the case for everyone—being anywhere under the LGBTQ umbrella can make prom an extremely stressful and even sad time. Many queer teens feel awkward expressing themselves at prom, be it by bringing a same-sex partner, wanting to wear a tux when others expect them to wear a dress, or having a whole room of straight peers stare when they dance with your date. Many are flat out not allowed. Continue reading “StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom”

Harcourt Memorial UC LGBTQA+ Committee update

We at Harcourt Memorial United Church enjoyed an active spring season and pride week recently. Two members sat on the Guelph Pride Week Committee throughout the year to assist with supporting this city-wide activity that saw hundreds of people attend the myriad of events throughout the week of May 3-10.

Harcourt’s Committee planned the 2nd Annual Storytelling Series  “Speaking Our Truths”. Thirteen speakers from a wide spectrum of identities shared ten minutes of their story, including three transgender individuals and one individual married to a transgender person.  It was incredibly informative in helping us understand perspectives and experiences different than our own. There was laughter and tears and everything in between over 80 people listened intently to the stories.

On Sunday May 10th, we celebrated our Harcourt Affirming Service, which for the first time, was formally part of the Guelph Pride Week. Rev. Wendy Brown shared an inspiring and affirming message, the Waterloo Wellington Rainbow Chorus sang with the Harcourt Choir, and Pride Cake was enjoyed after the ceremony. It was a fitting finish to a week of Pride Activities.

Discussion and planning are in the works to combine Harcourt’s LGBTQA+ Committee with that of the Social Justice and Outreach Committee to spread the work and support between a greater number of members of Harcourt and expand our inclusive model to include the broader community.

— Julie Glass-Ashley, Chair of Harcourt LGBTQA+ Committee

Calgary Human RITES Conference a success

HumanRITESConference2015programOur May 2015 Human Rites conference highlighted and celebrated the progress made and conversations being had by various leaders who are using their voices to create positive and inclusive change. And it honoured the fact that active exclusion of LGBTQ people is still being experienced daily.

With over sixty registrants, and eighty to a hundred additional people attending each of our public evening events, this was the biggest and most successful faith LGBTQ conference that Alberta has seen. The conference was founded by five Affirming United Churches in Calgary (Hillhurst, Scarboro, Wild Rose, Deer Park, St. Thomas), and sponsored by many other multi-faith and community organizations.

InterfaithChantalGreyEyesMay2015
Chantal Grey Eyes May 2015

Our program featured:
Keynote speaker Matthew Vines, best-selling author of the paradigm-shifting book “God and the Gay Christian”;
A special appearance and workshops by Ivan Coyote – award winning Canadian poet, author, and performer;
Team Canada Olympic Luger John Fennell;
A full day of multi-faith workshops including: “Deconstructing Neo-Conservative Muslim Arguments on Same Sex Unions”, “The Road to Inclusiveness”, “Let’s Start the Conversation; Evangelicals and the LGBTQ Community”, “What does it mean to be affirming?”, a multi-faith panel, and a beautiful interfaith service on Sunday morning.

With people from very different faith backgrounds and in very different places in acceptance of themselves and others, the dialogue started was so encouraging, although much sadness still lingers in the lives of those who have been excluded. Our hope is to continue this as an annual event, gaining even more partners and supporters along the way. We look forward to next year and invite you to attend!
Pam Rocker, conference co-organizer.

Emmanuel UC, Waterloo, ON: Beyond our building

What we do and say outside our buildings is crucial. Over a month after adding a rainbow flag to the front of their church, Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo, Ontario, received the following email:

“Today on my way to work I noticed your flag “All Welcome”. Not sure if it had always been there, but today it certainly caught my eye.EmmanuelUnited-WaterlooON

The message touched my heart.

The rainbow spoke volumes. I suppose I have always had a soft spot for differences and when I saw your flag today, I was touched at the open arms of your parish to all and wanted to tell you that I am so glad that you exist. In my own faith journey I witnessed intolerance, judgment, and self-righteousness, thankfully not towards myself, but it may as well have been because we are all children of God and I took that judgment of others very personally.

When I see intolerance, I speak out and when I see others open their hearts, I want to say thank you because it is this way that we can change the world from a world of anger and hatred to a world of peace and love.

Thank you for “welcoming all” and for flying your flag high to remind all who see it to do the same and to treat each other with love and kindness. I don’t have to drive by your church on my way to work, but now that I’ve seen your flag, I will go this way every day, it is worth going a little bit out of my way to see such a symbol of love and to start my day with this message!”

Thanks to Rev. Dr. Bruce Sweet for sharing this email with us.
Photographer: Arthur Hills