Alberta’s Affirming journey: A look back and forward

Mill Woods United Church in Edmonton, showing off its Affirming welcome.

Many thanks to Bryon Delarue for bringing together this excellent overview of some of the 24-plus Affirming ministries in Alberta. Exactly ten years ago, there were three Affirming ministries in Alberta. Now there are twenty- four, with many more to come. Many of the more recent ones are in small towns. It is also home to the first assisted living facility in the country to become Affirming. This did not happen by accident or alone. Have a look at the details of this story- and be inspired to work on a similar commitment in your own context.

In the fall of 2003 Deer Park Council held two congregational gatherings with the purpose of listening to a collective voice on the core identity and passions of the congregation. An outcome was to live our mission for the next three years by focussing on youth; men; community with each other; people of other faiths; people in need and people of gay or lesbian orientation.

On November 9, 2003 an after-church forum was held at Deer Park on the topic “same gender marriage” led by Rev. Garth Mundle and in early 2004 a group was formed called Explore Affirm to explore the possibility of becoming an Affirming Congregation, this included a visit by Jim and Sandi from Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton.

In February 2004 – A gathering at Knox United Church was held to begin conversations about same-sex/same gender marriage forums – a kit was to be put together by Calgary Presbytery Congregational Support and Local & Global Outreach

On February 2, 2005 – simultaneously held same-sex marriage forums, scheduled by Calgary Presbytery. The North was held at Wild Rose United and for the South was held at St. Andrew’s United. The forums were intended to clarify the General Council’s request that United Church Congregations come to terms with their support for same-sex marriage. This was an opportunity for people to engage with this issue, express their thoughts and feelings and learn.

On February 27, 2006 – an information sharing session on same gender issues, arranged by Deer Park’s Explore Affirm Group, was held at Scarboro United (attended by Deer Park; Hillhurst; Knox; Parkdale; Robert McClure; Scarboro; St. Andrew’s; St. David’s; St. Thomas; Symons Valley; and Wild Rose) Each congregation shared their approach/actions taken and lessons learned and challenges encountered. Then we had a conversation about sharing our resources and to be resources / support to each other on our respective journeys.

On September 30, 2006 – a workshop was held at Southminster-Steinhauer, Edmonton attended by Bryon, Shelley, Bill and Rev. Tom Melvin – this was where the goal of “Why Not 8 by 2008” became our rallying cry.

In January 2007 – Deer Park in cooperation with Calgary Presbytery and Scarboro United Church held a two day forum on Sexuality, Gender and Spirituality. 85 people including over 50 from Deer Park attended. Representatives from 13 United Church congregations registered. The 14 panelists included gay, lesbian, transgendered people and their families. This forum broke our hearts open.

Here is a snippet from one of the panellists: “I still feel the powerful “love shower” that constantly fell on everyone at the Forum. It was a wonderful affirmation for me from one and all in attendance. It is a weekend that I will long remember. I admire the strength of purpose that you have in moving to becoming an affirming congregation. Since returning home I have started attending Southminster-Steinhauer in Edmonton. I never thought I would become an attendee of any church again in my life. The warmth that I felt at Deer Park has transferred to Southminster-Steinhauer. What a miracle for me to actually want to start attending church again and actually look forward to another Sunday. Being in Calgary gave me the courage to put a stop to the subtle and not so subtle abuse I continued to receive from the few members of my family that remained in my contact. I experienced joy and cleansing from sharing my story and I would like to continue speaking at whatever opportunity presents itself”.

On April 15, 2007 Deer Park becomes the first United Church congregation in Calgary to celebrate becoming an Affirming Ministry within the United Church of Canada. It’s the third in Alberta.

Today, there are twenty three United Church congregations and one educational institution in Alberta recognized as Affirming. In May 2017 it is expected that Ashbourne, a place for independent and assisted living connected to Garneau United Church in Edmonton will be the first residential facility to be declared an Affirming Ministry.

Currently in Calgary, Calgary Presbytery has voted to be affirming and approved their faith statement and a celebration is expected this year, the congregations of Robert McClure, Lakeview and Red Deer Lake are all on the journey of becoming affirming.

The other known denominations / faith groups in Calgary considered to be affirming/welcoming/inclusive are the Calgary Inter Mennonite Church; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Cross; Knox Presbyterian Church; St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic Community; and the Unitarian Church of Calgary. There are others.

At the ten year Affirming anniversary celebration for Deer Park United Church. the following Affirming ministries in Alberta were named with their celebration dates.

United Church Affirming Ministries in Alberta

January 31, 1999                        Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, Edmonton, AB

November 26, 2006                 Mill Woods United Church, Edmonton, AB

April 15, 2007                        Deer Park United Church, Calgary, AB

May 6, 2007                                  Knox United Church, Calgary, AB

June 17, 2007                              Wild Rose United Church, Calgary, AB

October 14, 2007                        St. Paul’s United Church, Edmonton, AB

June 8, 2008                                    Symons Valley United Church, Calgary, AB

September 23, 2008                        Scarboro United Church, Calgary, AB

April 5, 2009                                    Hillhurst United Church, Calgary, AB

April 6, 2009                                    St. Stephen’s College, Edmonton, AB

June 7, 2009                                    Robertson-Wesley United Church, Edmonton, AB

February 21, 2010                        McKillop United Church, Lethbridge, AB

November 14, 2010                        Garneau United Church, Edmonton, AB

March 20, 2011                        Parkdale United Church, Calgary, AB

March 27, 2011                        St. Thomas United Church, Calgary, AB

September 23, 2012                        St. Andrew’s United Church, Lacombe, AB

November 24, 2013                        McDougall United Church, Edmonton, AB

October 26, 2014                        Living Spirit United Church, Calgary, AB

October 26, 2014                        St. Albert United Church, St. Albert, AB

February 8, 2015                        St. Andrew’s United Church, Calgary, AB

March 6, 2016                        Camrose United Church, Camrose, AB

September 25, 2016                       St. David’s United Church, Calgary, AB

December 11, 2016                       McDougall United Church, Calgary, AB

March 19, 2017                        First United Church, Wetaskiwin, AB

Prepared by Bryon Delarue


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