Farewell and gratitude to Affirming Conferences and Presbyteries

There was a time when being an Affirming ministry meant being a congregation—and local churches are still very much our backbone. But in 2008, the Conference of Manitoba and NorthWestern Ontario took a new step: it became Affirming. It began working with the presbyteries in its borders, and as of 2017, all of these presbyteries were Affirming. Bay of Quinte Conference in Ontario set itself some similar goals, as well as setting up a team to support more Affirming congregations and presbyteries.

Together, and with many others, they helped open up space for eight Conferences and seventeen presbyteries to become Affirming, as of November 2018.

They are:

Affirming Conferences: Maritime, Bay of Quinte, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Manitou, Manitoba-NW Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

Affirming Presbyteries: Agassiz Presbytery, Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Conference; Assiniboine Presbytery, Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Conference; Calgary Presbytery, Alberta Northwest Conference; Cambrian Presbytery, Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Conference; Cariboo Presbytery, BC Conference; Chignecto Presbytery, Maritime Conference; Four Rivers Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference; Inverness-Guysborough Presbytery (Nova Scotia) Maritime Conference; Kawartha Highlands Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference (ON); Living Waters Presbytery, Toronto Conference; Northland Presbytery, Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Conference; Ottawa Presbytery, Montreal and Ottawa Conference; River Bend Presbytery, Saskatchewan Conference; Shining Waters Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference; Truro Presbytery, Maritime Conference; Upper Valley Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference; Winnipeg Presbytery, Manitoba Northwest Conference.

Being an Affirming Presbytery or Conference is its own unique journey, with distinctive and much-needed contributions to becoming a truly welcoming church. AUSE thanks all people, of all identities, with us in body or who have left us, who helped birth these Affirming ministries. Thank you for your inclusive vision, your commitment to the loving and expansive gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gifts you each brought to the Affirming journey and work of your Presbytery or Conference. Your work will live in on in new ways.

Looking to the future
On January 1, 2019, these two structures will pass into history. They’ll be replaced by Regional Councils, a decision taken collectively through a lengthy voting process across the entire United Church. As our church moves through this major transition, AUSE acknowledges both the gifts and the pain that are the legacy of all Presbyteries and Conferences to LGBTQI2SA+ people. Some have been welcoming spaces, and for these we are deeply grateful. Others have not always been welcoming of LGTQI2SA+ people.

Through the Living Apology project over the past two years, we’ve had a chance to hear some painful and hope-filled stories of support and welcome; persecution and isolation, especially in the lead up to and aftermath of the 1988 decision that sexual orientation was not a barrier to full membership in the United Church of Canada. To this day, less than 10% of ministries and courts, in The United Church are Affirming. This is why the Affirming process and long-term commitments remain crucial. We are not done, and the work of being Affirming must carry on in the new Regional Councils.

What’s next for Regional Councils and being Affirming? There is a plan proposed by AUSE, and this is currently under discussion with Executive Ministers, with the guidance of AUSE Council and with Rev Cindy Bourgeois taking the lead. We’ll offer a formal bilingual update early in the new year, once conversations that happened December 3 have a clear outcome.

We are confident that, with your help, the current surge of interest in the Affirming Ministry Program will continue as we all move forward together.