Council and governance

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble (AU/SE) relies on a volunteer Council that meets twice a year face to face and by conference call every two months or so. Members are drawn from all over the country and together represent a wide range of gifts, skills, and experiences. They oversee the overall direction and strategic planning for the organization. Scroll right down for some bios from these fine people!

Our annual reports offer a great overview of our work, and the work of hundreds of Affirming ministries and ministries in process. Once a year AU/SE gathers the whole community at its annual conference, to which everyone of good will is welcome, no matter your identities. The Conference includes our annual general meeting. We’re a membership-based registered charity, and all members are welcome to vote at our AGM. Your membership as an individual or ministry keeps our movement strong and diverse; please consider joining us.

Some of our 2017 Council, Affirming ministry coordinators, and staff at SpiritPride and the AUSE annual conference, Vancouver, July 2017. Many thanks to members who finished their terms: Judy Amsbury, Jen Carter-Morgan, Warren McDougall, and Collin Smith.

If you’re really interested in us, check out our bylaws. If you have any questions, please get in touch with our Council co-chairs. (Note that inquiries and updates related to the Affirming ministry process should be sent here.)

Your 2017-18 Council:

Executive (as of July 2017)
Co-chair:  Michiko Bown-Kai
Secretary: Cindy Bourgeois
Treasurer:  Anne Wood

Members-at-Large (as of June 2017)
David Cathcart

Michelle Henry

Jenni Leslie
Chris Mann

Mynt Marsellus
Serena Patterson
Katie Vardy

Ex oficio: John Calhoun, Membership Coordinator.

Julie Graham (Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble, Communications Coordinator)
Aaron Miechkota (Living Apology project)
General Council liaison staff: Jordan Sullivan

Biographies : Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble 2017-2018 Council
(These include Michiko Bown-Kai, David Cathcart, Jenni Leslie, Chris Mann, Mynt Marsellus, Serena Patterson, Katie Vardy, and Anne Wood. More to come!)

Michiko Bown-Kai is AU/SE’s co-chair. Michiko is a queer person of colour who currently lives in Toronto, Ontario (Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Anishinabek Territories).  They are a candidate for ministry within the United Church of Canada and are currently studying at Emmanuel College in the Masters of Divinity program.  They find joy in dancing, crafting, and blogging.

David Cathcart is a member at large. He is currently in ministry at Trinity United Church in Port Coquitlam, part of the Metro Vancouver Area.  He has served in Saskatchewan and in Manitoba.  Knox United in Brandon, MB became an Affirming congregation while he was there.  He was part of the process while the Conference of MNWO became an Affirming Ministry and he started the process for Assiniboine Presbytery.

Jenni Leslie is a member at large.  “I am the Minister at Kitchissippi United Church in Ottawa.  I have been a member of Affirm since 2012, and a member (at large) of Council since 2013.  I am also part of a Pastoral Care Team, with Marco St-Marie, which has recently been formed with the purpose of providing pastoral care to those who are feeling oppressed, alone, devalued or discriminated against.

I became interested in the work that Affirm does in my settlement charge in 2002 but was unable to pursue it at that time.  I was not “out” to my pastoral charge then, but after a very difficult leave taking, I was able to see how much better life is ‘out of the closet’, and so my current church knows who I am and embrace me for it.  I am a mom of 2 kids.  I am also the Chair of the Diversity Committee for Ottawa Presbytery and am a Co-Chair for the Affirming Process of Montreal and Ottawa Conference. For fun, I love to read, paint (walls not canvas!) play baseball and volleyball and bake!”

Chris Mann is a member at large. She is currently a Spiritual Director, photographer, musician and writer. Prior to retiring, Chris was a teacher and school principal, and devoted her career to providing the best philosophies and instructional practices possible so that each child could experience success. Chris continues to focus on seeing the best in all children. Her 4th degree was a doctorate in brain research and leadership, and led her to open a “brain-based” multiple intelligences school, where students got to learn and to show what they knew through ways that honoured their strengths – using bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmical, inter/intra-personal, and visual-spatial intelligence areas, instead of just using words and numbers. Chris received the top award out of 200 doctoral dissertations in her University for her applied research. She became an expert in the area of “intelligence” and spent two decades as a motivational speaker for teachers, parents and the public.

Chris grew up within the United Church of Canada and remains closely involved with the UCC. From the roots of faith, community and social justice, she has expanded her spiritual path over time to include a wide tapestry of experiences and expressions of the Holy. Being in nature is where she experiences the Divine most clearly, as well as through prayers with others, photography, poetry and through uplifting songs sung by her choirs. Truly, everything in life is Spirit-filled!

Chris has worked on seven Boards of Directors, and is glad to be able to offer her skills to support worthwhile organizations.

Mynt Marsellus, member at large.  “I am a candidate for ministry in the United Church of Canada from St. Paul’s United Church in Bay of Quinte Conference. I live with bi-polar disorder II, experience my sexuality as bisexual, and understand my gender identity to be non-binary/genderqueer. While in high school, I worked on the St. Paul’s church board and was elected as a Presbytery rep and member of Conference, sitting on the executives of both Oshawa Presbytery and Bay of Quinte Conference. At University, my work in the church turned to learning in an ecumenical ministry setting on the Wilfrid Laurier University campus and beginning to take classes looking at religious history, theology, and faith practice in the world. I was elected by BoQ Conference to attend General Council 42 and in Waterloo have been walking with a congregation as they discern through the Remits put forward by GC42. In my life right now, I am doing what I can to learn about church tradition and history while understanding how the beautiful teachings and theology of the past can fit into the merciful, inclusive, affirming, faithful present that the church finds itself in.

Serena Patterson, member at large. “I am a member of Comox United in Comox, BC, where I’ve worshipped for the last decade or so.

I am a lesbian of some vintage (born 1959).  I grew up one of four PK’s (Preacher’s Kids) in the rural Midwestern United States.  My father’s (and my mother’s, as the Preacher’s Wife) ministry was remarkable for the time and place for his open support of social justice and liberal theology. … I felt like God was a big friend that I talked to constantly; it was a comfort to be never alone. …

My parents’ acceptance of “homosexuality” (as it was known in the 1970’s) was not enough to insulate me from the wave of bigotry that shook Christianity in my adolescent and adult years.  I left organized religion, even the United Church, as I felt it was more concerned with reconciling with its Conservative members  than it was with standing firm for the full acceptance and dignity of glbt people.  I missed the worship, the community, the music, and rhythm of the liturgical year.  I missed my heritage and I missed the ease of my childhood relationship with Jesus.  I missed hanging out with people who understood how that very odd story of Jesus on the cross could move me to great joy.  But I could not go back for many years.

In 1999, something happen that changed this.  I was still pretty new to living as an open lesbian with my partner, Monika, and my daughter, Laura, who was then 12.  Being an activist by nature, I organized a visit and performance in our small town of Courtenay of the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir.  I think that the thing that most excited our emerging glbt community was the name of the choir, on the local theatre marquis, for everyone to see!  It was outrageously brave!   During the concert, a pepper-spray canister was detonated in the theatre.  Everyone had to evacuate.  People with breathing problems went to the hospital.  We were stunned—such an act of irrational hatred, by people who did not even know us!  The Comox United Church pastor, Rev. Maggie Enright, invited the choir and audience to the church, where the concert restarted.  That night, marked by a crime of impersonal hate followed by an act of unconditional generosity, began my journey back to the church.

Today I live with my partner, Monika, and our second daughter, Grace.  Grace is 15.  Laura is now grown up and challenges me weekly to deepen and broaden my understanding of the rest of “glbt”—the transgendered, intersexed, and bisexual parts of the Queer spectrum, and the intersections of life where gender, sexuality, ethnicity, social and economic class meet.   My professional work is as a psychologist.  My avocation is writing, which helps me to sort through the richness of life.”

Katie Vardy, Member at Large. “I am 20 years old, and was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and consider myself to be a proud Newfoundlander. I am currently a student at Memorial University where I am pursuing my Bachelor of Arts with a major in Religious Studies while also working on my Diploma in Youth Ministry from the Atlantic School of Theology. I plan to move to Halifax once I graduate from MUN, where I will attend AST, earn my Masters of Divinity and eventually become an ordained minster.

I identify as queer and use the pronouns she/her. I came out to my family and friends in 2016 and just the other day(September 17th, 2017), came out to my congregation while I was preaching the sermon. Since coming out, I have made it my mission to break the stigma surrounding religion and sexuality. I was one of the speakers for 2017 TEDx Youth Talk St. John’s and my topic was “Jesus, I am queer; asking awkward questions about religion and sexuality” I have always been a part of the United Church of Canada and I know the church’s policy on inclusion and affirmation however, before I came out, I struggled with accepting that I could be both religious and queer and still be accepted.

In 2015, I had the privilege of being apart of the General Council 42 Pilgrimage to Corner Brook, NL in 2015, it was on this trip that I received my call to ministry and realized that my sexuality and my faith are part of me and suppressing my sexuality will only lead to negative consequences.

My home congregation of St. James United Church has come a long way in the last couple of years with regards to inclusion. We have walked in the St. John’s Pride Parade, not once but twice (2016 and 2017). In April of 2016, we voted yes to performing LGBTQ+ marriages and yes to begin the affirming process.

I am currently one of the co-leaders of the Youth Group at St. James and have to participated in 5 GO Projects, Rendez-Vous, and other national church events. All of these events have shaped me in some way, shape or form.”

Anne Wood is our treasurer. Anne lives in Kingston, ON with her partner Ruth.  They attend St. Andrew’s-By-The-Lake United Church.

Anne recently retired from her position as Office Administrator of Princess Street United Church.  In that position her responsibilities included making all non-offering bank deposits, using Simply Accounting to post all transactions, reconciling all accounts monthly and preparing the Financial Reports for the Treasurer to present at Official Board and Congregational Meetings.  She also worked closely with the Chair of the Trustees to track all investments and interest using both Simply Accounting and Microsoft Excel.

Prior to working at Princess Street United Church she worked as the assistant to a Financial Advisor.  In both of these jobs she regularly used Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

From 1984 to 2004 she was an active member of St. Paul’s United Church in Harrowsmith, ON where she sang in the choir, served on Session, and spent one term as Chair of the Church Council.

In her spare time Anne enjoys photography, walking, and spending time with her six young grandchildren.


Julie Graham is AU/SE’s Communications and Marketing Coordinator. “I work ten hours a week for Affirm and am honoured to contribute to the movement by helping it tell its story. I love connecting with ministries and supporters around the country. I’ve been an AU/SE member for about 15 years; Affirm United was an important space for me while coming out, and for years I was also a member of Trinity-St Paul’s United, an Affirming congregation in Toronto. That was another safe and important space for me, and I hope to see the day when every ministry in the United Church is Affirming.

I’m White and identify as a woman and as lesbian/ queer. I’m originally from Coast Salish territory in BC, and later lived in Toronto for 18 years. Now I’m in Saskatoon/ Treaty Six, where my partner Jennifer teaches. I’m a writer, adult educator, workshop facilitator, and English as a Second Language instructor aide. I speak French and Spanish. I also co-facilitate the United Church’s racial justice training program and work at Saskatchewan Conference. I’m a United Church member but consider myself ecumenical.”


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