Reflection- Kamloops United Church, Orange Shirt Day 2018

Reflection: Kamloops United Church, Orange Shirt Day 2018, by Christine Dolson. She explains, “Our Affirming Sunday coincided with Orange Shirt Day. Reconciliation and being Affirming arise from the same Source.

The artists and the Affirming chair. (Left to right) Barb Hollingshead, Heather Mewhort, Christine Dolson, Marie Allen (project’s leader), and Marcia Skaarup.

It is colourful here today isn’t it? Orange shirts, and rainbows. So many colours, so

many symbols. Colours and symbols have power. Colours and symbols can make us feel something. Colours and symbols serve to celebrate and to remind us about things that are important.

Today we are celebrating and remembering.

Today we celebrate a special remembrance that over 22 years ago, this community of faith, Kamloops United Church, committed to being an Affirming congregation, and officially became a member of the national organization, Affirm United.

We are also a community of faith committed to Reconciliation. Today, September 30, is Orange Shirt Day, as part of the ‘Every Child Matters’ campaign. In 1973, a six year old girl was gifted an orange shirt by her grandmother. Upon the

A paper orange shirt pegged to a line. It says KUC Every Child Matters.

Kamloops United Church- Orange Short Day, September 2018.

small child’s arrival at the residential school, school officials confiscated the orange shirt and the little girl never saw it again. This greatly impacted the mental and emotional well-being of this child and always symbolized for her that “her feelings never mattered”. That little girl shared her story at a reunion of residential school survivors in 2013 and this annual campaign began.

September 30 was chosen as the date to commemorate all the children that were forced to leave their homes and communities to attend school, as that was the time of year when the buses and officials rolled in to take the children away. The Orange Shirt Day campaign provides all Canadians with an opportunity to participate in a collective act of Reconciliation, and to reinforce that every child matters.

The commitment of Kamloops United Church to Reconciliation is driven by the same unconditional love that led us to becoming an Affirming congregation.  Being Affirming means we believe that God loves and celebrates all people. Although the national church’s Affirming Ministry Program focuses on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, it encourages ministries to broaden their understanding, awareness, and action to include:  justice, healing reconciliation for Indigenous peoples, and work to end racism. When we talk about being Affirming, it goes far beyond tolerance, far beyond acceptance, far beyond welcoming. It is love for, and affirmation of, every person, in their diversity.

So how do we express that? How would someone new to the building and to the culture of Kamloops United Church know that they were loved and affirmed by us?  How do we keep ourselves mindful that KUC is committed to that kind of unconditional love and affirmation?

Well, every Sunday in the welcoming moments of worship, we hear the words that remind us that we acknowledge that we are on unceded Tk’emlups te Secwepemc lands, and that we are grateful for that privilege. Our welcome also always includes a statement that KUC is an LGBTQ Affirming congregation, where all are welcome to participate in all aspects of church life regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

At Kamloops Pride, 2018.

Those acknowledgements, repeated each week, are as essential a ritual as any prayer or other repeated part of our worship. Those statements are about us remembering and acting out the radical hospitality called for by Jesus. It is part of being Public, Intentional and Explicit about two of the central elements of the KUC identity; our faith demands that our words and actions reflect that commitment to Reconciliation and to being Affirming of all people.

In the last 48 hours I became aware of a situation unfolding right here in BC. On Wednesday last week, close to 200 Evangelical pastors from around the province signed a declaration that they are calling the West Coast Christian Accord. It is, and I quote, “… intended to be a statement of faith concerning the authority of scripture on gender identity and human sexuality.” And it’s purpose is (and again I quote) “…to form a coalition from which a united stand can be mounted…”.

Their target? The SOGI 123 resources for use in BC schools to promote inclusivity. The accord has 14 articles, all containing statements that diminish and exclude people, specifically LGBTQ, using the mistaken and false justification that scripture says so. I choose not to further disseminate hate, so I won’t give you an example but be assured that these pastors do not speak for all Christians and they definitely do not speak for the one they call Jesus. And this matters to us…why? Because as an Affirming community of faith, we are called upon to witness that these words of hate do not represent the world view of all those who identify as Christian. The words of affirmation that we speak, and the symbols of inclusion and welcome that we display make a huge difference.

LGB, and queer and transgender youth are far more at risk for self-harm; is it any wonder when their churches are sending the message that  they are unfit to be in the world? So a rainbow flag visible on our window, or words of welcoming affirmation are acts of love, it might even save a life.

And we have much to be proud of!  KUC has been present and Public in the two, now annual, Kamloops Pride parades, and at several events at TRU; and the greater community has noticed. This August, during Pride week KUC hosted an art event and show in collaboration with Kamloops Pride, and the community came and were impressed. And not it’s just during special events…how about our accessibility ramp?!  We are so thrilled that the accessibility ramp is now permanently painted in the six colours of the Pride flag, and the community has noticed that too. The feedback about that ramp has been fantastic!

But today… we are celebrating something particularly special, a work of art created by members of our KUC family, for our KUC family and for others who enter this building. A beautiful, tangible, permanent, and colourful symbol is now hanging here in our sanctuary. This AU/SE banner will be a permanent fixture and informs and reminds all who enter here, that Kamloops United Church is public, intentional and explicit, and unconditional, in its Affirmation of all people.

Colours and symbols have power. Colours and symbols stir us. Colours and symbols help us remember. This is good.

I can’t thank the fabric arts folk enough. Marie Allen, Barb Hollingshead, Marcia Skaarup and Heather Mewhort.