Highlights from Affirming ministries, 2015-2016

Every year, Affirming ministries are asked to give a short annual report. Jordan Sullivan, Ministry Partnership Animator, and LGBTQ+ Justice at the General Council office, takes on the enormous task of compiling highlights. Many thanks to Jordan and to all the ministries who reported for sharing your stories and inspiring us. Please take a moment to look at these hope-filled stories, and feel free to share them in other publications. 

85 out of a possible 138 Affirming Ministries submitted their reports for 2015, with an additional five ministries promising to submit their report soon (as of June 20, 2016). If those five are received, that will bring the total to 89 reports which is a 65% response rate. Response rates from previous years have been: 78% in 2012, 42% in 2013, and 71% in 2014.

Ninety percent of all ministries which became Affirming in 2015 submitted a report this year. In comparison, 53% of ministries that have been affirming for five years or more, did not submit a report. Eight of those older ministries have not submitted a report in the past five years.

Affirming Ministries continue to participate in Pride Parades; hold movie nights; acknowledge special days like the Trans Day of Remembrance (Nov 20) and the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (May 17); support other United Churches considering, or involved in, becoming Affirming; engage with local PFLAG and other LGBTQ+ organizations; and celebrate their Affirming Ministry anniversaries.

Reading through their annual reports continues to be surprising, inspiring and healing. Here are just a few highlights from this past year.

  • Maritime Conference became an Affirming Ministry in October of 2015. Their new Affirming Ministry Committee created a plan of action noting such things as: preparing a list of people in the Conference who might serve as resource to pastoral charges, congregations, presbyteries wanting to know more about the Affirming Ministry process; working with the Conference Staff Committee to help flesh out the ways in which our Conference Staff embody our Affirming Ministry vision in their work and ministry; looking to a variety of ways to publicly proclaim our Affirming Ministry status in our Conference Office Centre, our communications, and media releases; engaging in immediate conversation with the Conference Ministry Personnel and Education Committee regarding how they will communicate Conference’s Affirming Ministry status to Inquirers, Candidates, Applicants for ministry within the Conference; and planning to prepare a list of pastoral charges/ congregations where fully inclusive marriage is already available. (Photo: President Matthew Fillier at the celebration. By Anne Hebb.)
  • Clifton Pastoral Charge’s Diversity in Action Committee in Nova Scotia, have this past year connected with and visited a local high school, Cobequid Educational Centre, introducing themselves to the students who make up the Gay/Straight Alliance. It was a worthwhile meeting and discussion, and the students were pleased to know other churches in their area were seeking to be inclusive in important ways.
  • In Nova Scotia, one of Truro Presbytery’s signs of commitment to their mission was the creation of a Presbytery Hosting Guide, which was distributed to all pastoral charges throughout Truro Presbytery. The guide is filled with suggestions of how churches who choose to serve as hosts for Presbytery’s monthly meetings might make their space an inclusive and affirming experience for all. It covers such topics as accessibility, gender-neutral washrooms, dietary sensitivities, scent free spaces, and providing child care during meetings… The guide was well received by the court in the winter of 2016, and was implemented almost immediately by all churches who shared hosting duties from February to May 2016.
  • At West Side United Church in Pentz, Nova Scotia, a member of the congregation requested that the local town council grant permission to raise the Pride Flag at the beginning of Pride Week in Nova Scotia. The Members of Session offered support to this individual which culminated in the flag being raised in Bridgewater (July 2015). The congregation was advised that this was taking place and invited to attend. This was the first time that the flag had been raised – it was an historic moment. Of the approximately 50 people in attendance for the event about half were from our congregation. The member of our congregation who made the request along with our Ministry Personnel participated in the flag raising; they assisted the town Mayor and several other local dignitaries. It made “front page news” in the local paper and appeared again at year-end as a “highlight from 2015”. This was a very proud moment to witness.
  • At Summerlea United Church in Lachine, QC, it was brought up in our Outreach committee that although we were indeed an affirming congregation did anyone else around the neighbourhood realize it? After discussions within the committee and consultation with our minister, we began plans to have two Rainbow Flags permanently installed on the outside of our building. It wasn’t until 2016 that our plans came to fruition. After consulting with Scott we decided to have the flags installed just prior to a special Affirming Sunday service that was being planned and to move outside at the close of the service for the dedication of the flags. For the service, in place of the usual sermon, Scott came away from the pulpit to tell his own fraught journey to ordination as a United Church minister (see The Winding Path that led to Summerlea). The flags are now visible from direction west, south and east.
  • The Bay of Quinte Conference office which became Affirming in 2013, established an Equity Committee in 2015 to help them live into their commitment to be an Affirming Conference. The committee led the executive in an accessibility workshop. The annual conference justice workshop 2016, known as the Fall Advance, will be hosted by the Equity Committee with a theme of “Equity, Justice and Equality: Confronting our Privilege, Confronting our Prejudices.”
  • Four Rivers Presbytery in Lanark Country (a conservative rural community west of Ottawa), reported on their participation in the Lanark County Pride Parade where they encourage clergy to wear their collars to increase visibility. They are working on a project of assembling contact information for sympathetic or supportive groups within their presbytery, to help build a network.
  • Castleton-Grafton Pastoral Charge in Grafton, ON, has worked beyond the social justice orientation noted in other years (senior’s housing, 100 Mile diet good food event, and their Heavenly Helpings recycled clothing depot etc.) with their work this year being marked by their refugee sponsorship program that in part flowed out of their Affirm focus. They wrote an article for Affirm United – Why would a small rural congregation bother with becoming affirming?
  • On Jan 25th, at the AGM of Dunbarton Fairport United Church, in Pickering, ON they voted to take a membership in Affirm United and to become an affirming congregation. They passed the mission statement by 97% and the vote to take a membership with Affirm United by 88%. “We met some resistance by some who did not want to take out the membership but felt we could still call ourselves affirming. …if it was the will of the congregation not to vote to take out the membership we would not in good conscience call ourselves affirming to honor the process and work of Affirm United,” wrote Rev. Jeff Doucette. “At one point I was sure the vote would not go through…but during the discussion leading to the vote someone came forward to speak and came out to the entire congregation as transgender and received a thunderous ovation. I am sure that this turned the vote hugely positive. It was one of the most powerful moments of my nearly 20 years in ministry.”
  • Richmond Hill United Church in Richmond Hill, ON, wrote a letter of support, signed by the Chair of Council, for the passing of the Ontario Legislature Private Members Bill, #77, as presented by Cheri DiNovo, MPP, and an ordained United Church minister. This bill, “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act” addresses the terrible treatment known as “conversion therapy” where people are supposedly “cured” of their non-heterosexual orientation. The bill passed.
  • Parkminster United Church in Waterloo, ON, are supporting a local Presbyterian Church as they move towards becoming an inclusive place for the LGBTQ community. They began a column called “You’ve been caught” doing something inclusive. And hosted an evening with speaker, Jessica DelRosso about what it is like being homeless as a teenager once you have come out to your family. They had a follow up meeting with Jessica to see if she had ideas of what else the church could do.
  • Churchill Park United Church in Winnipeg, MB, planned an event in partnership with other Affirming congregations in Winnipeg. After meeting with Gary Paterson and his partner Tim Stevenson they settled on an event focused on increasing their understanding of the transgender community. The event “Understanding Spirit and Soul” was held May 7, 2016.
  • Members of Grosvenor Park United Church in Saskatoon, SK worked the coat check at Divas nightclub to raise money for Camp Caterpillar. Camp Caterpillar is a camp for gender variant children, their siblings and friends as well as children from same sex parents. This camp is held at Camp Tapawingo (a United Church Camp). Our hope is that every United Church Camp will open a time for a Camp Caterpillar across Canada! Our PRIDE parade float won a prize as a float that celebrated same sex marriage. The prize money was donated to Camp Caterpillar.
  • Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton, AB, started the Rainbow Connections group as a result of a young gay male who wanted a safe place to hold an alcohol free dance for junior and senior high youth that were LGBTQ+. The small group made the decorations, the food and taped some music and with the help of the supportive parents in the congregation who chaperoned and Affirm committee members were available an amazing dance transpired that had 70 kids show up from all across Edmonton. As a result of this success of the first dance there was a dance held in February and another one in May each being more successful than the past. The Rainbow Connections crew had such a great time making the decorations and art for the event that they organized a monthly youth art night which is open to all youth and young at heart not matter what your sexual orientation is. As a bonus some of the LGBTQ+ youth who did not have a church to belong to have started to attend Southminister-Steinhauer United Church.
  • Deer Park United Church, Calgary, AB, provided financial support to Camp fYrefly (a 4 day residential style summer leadership retreat for sexual and gender minority youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, queer and allied). The congregation joined other United Churches – Hillhurst, Scarboro, St. Thomas and Wild Rose – as founding partners of the Human RITES conference held May 15 to 17, 2015. Deer Park, Hillhurst, Parkdale, St. Andrew’s, St. Thomas, Wild Rose are the planning team for YQC (Young Queer Church). This is deemed to be a revolutionary program that has a vision of creating an inclusive safe space for LGBTQ youth and young adults (age +16) where identity and faith can be reconciled. The website yqcbelong.com has been launched.
  • The Affirm Group at Knox United Church in Parksville, BC, did not meet this past year. However, members of the congregation supported other United Church in their process to, and celebration of, becoming Affirming. “Preparing this Annual Report gives me time to reflect on what we need to do next and I think, at this stage, a survey might be in order. If members of the ‘Affirm Group’ were to visit the various Knox committees and conduct an oral survey about what they think being Affirming has meant to them we might be surprised. We think we have many things ‘in place’ in Knox, but as time passes and staff changes, as people leave and new people come, it may be time to remind everyone of what was achieved 3 years ago.”
  • Alberni Valley United Church in Port Alberni, BC, became an Affirming Ministry in 2015 and now provide space for their local PFLAG representative as well as Port Alberni Pride, PFLAG, Wilde Youth etc. to meet. They support Port Alberni Pride events such as the annual BBQ, and have created a gender-neutral washroom. In addition they are exploring opportunities to respond to the “Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action” by including First Nation language, stories and spiritual practice in our Sunday service.

 I’d like to close this sharing of highlights with the words from Rev. Susan Ivany at Westminster United Church in Thunder Bay, ON:

“It’s been a good year at Westminster. We are blessed with members and adherents who share amazing gifts within our faith community and the wider community of Thunder Bay and region…. Last summer, we shared worship with another United Church congregation in Thunder Bay. In July, both congregations worshiped at Westminster, and we all worshiped at the other church in August. The wonderful thing about this sharing is that we are two congregations who, on the face of it, appear to have little in common. We are an Affirming ministry, while the other congregation has historically been more on the traditional end of the theological spectrum.

It turns out each congregation had some biases toward the other. Thankfully, it only took about 10 minutes for all of us to figure out that those old stereotypes about who was “traditional” and who was “liberal” were completely ridiculous. We were simply children of God, drawn together to celebrate God’s presence, pray, sing, and hear the gospel. Both congregations agreed that our sharing was entirely successful and we’ve all made new friends. Neither congregation is of a mind to convert the other – we know we’re in this ministry together, and that’s reason for celebration and gratitude.

In all our years as an Affirming ministry, this is perhaps the greatest gift we’ve experienced as a congregation – the clarity of knowing who we are, and even greater clarity in knowing that there is no “us” and “them” – there are simply faithful congregations on different parts of the journey. We understood this before last July, but our summer worship confirmed it in a concrete way. It was quite wonderful.

Being Affirming means we proudly proclaim the inclusive, astounding, love of God. Our life and faith are enriched when we remember Jesus’ great hope: that all may be one.”

Below is a list of all reports received for 2015:

British Columbia Conference

  • Alberni Valley U.C., Port Alberni, BC
  • Brechin U.C., Nanaimo, BC
  • Comox U.C., Comox, BC
  • Knox U.C., Parksville, BC
  • Nelson U.C., Nelson, BC
  • Salt Spring Island U.C., Salt Spring Island, BC
  • Shiloh Sixth Ave U.C., New Westminster, BC
  • Aidan’s U.C., Victoria, BC
  • Trinity U.C., Vancouver, BC

Alberta & Northwest Conference

  • Deer Park U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Garneau U.C., Edmonton, AB
  • Hillhurst U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Knox U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Living Spirit U.C., Calgary, AB
  • McDougall U.C., Edmonton, AB
  • Mill Woods U.C., Edmonton, AB
  • Parkdale U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Southminister-Steinhauer U.C., Edmonton, AB
  • Andrew’s U.C. (St. Andrew’s Centre), Calgary, AB
  • Andrew’s U.C., Lacombe, AB
  • Albert U.C., St. Albert, AB
  • Thomas U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Wild Rose U.C., Calgary, AB
  • Yellowknife U.C., Yellowknife, NT
  • Report expected to arrive soon: Paul’s U.C., Edmonton, AB

Saskatchewan Conference

  • Eastside U.C., Regina, SK
  • Grosvenor Park U.C., Saskatoon, SK
  • Andrew’s College, Saskatoon, SK
  • James U.C., Regina, SK
  • Thomas-Wesley U.C., Saskatoon, SK
  • Sunset U.C., Regina, SK

Conference of Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Conference

  • Churchill Park U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, Winnipeg, MB
  • Immanuel U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Knox U.C., Fort Frances, ON
  • Knox U.C., Brandon, MB
  • Minnedosa U.C., Minnedosa, MB
  • United Church in Meadowood, Winnipeg, MB
  • Selkirk U.C., Selkirk, MB
  • Andrew’s River Heights U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Mary’s Road U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Paul’s U.C., Thunder Bay, ON
  • Transcona Memorial U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Trinity U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Westminister U.C., Thunder Bay, ON
  • Young U.C., Winnipeg, MB
  • Report expected to arrive soon: Cambrian Presbytery, Thunder Bay, ON

Manitou Conference

  • Andrew’s U.C., North Bay, ON

London Conference

  • First-St. Andrew’s U.C., London, ON
  • Victoria Avenue U.C., Chatham, ON

Hamilton Conference

  • Applewood U.C., Mississauga, ON
  • New Vision U.C., Hamilton, ON
  • Harcourt Memorial U.C., Guelph, ON
  • Parkminster U.C., Waterloo, ON

Toronto Conference

  • Applewood U.C., Mississauga, ON
  • The Donway Covenant U.C., Toronto, ON
  • Dunbarton-Fairport U.C., Pickering, ON
  • Eastminster U.C., Toronto, ON
  • Fairlawn Avenue U.C., Toronto, ON
  • Glen Rhodes U.C., Toronto, ON
  • Richmond Hill U.C., Richmond Hill, ON
  • Royal York Road U.C., Toronto, ON
  • Report expected to arrive soon: Grace U.C., Barrie, ON

 Bay of Quinte Conference

  • Bay of Quinte Conference, Belleville, ON
  • Castleton-Grafton Pastoral Charge (Castleton & Andrew’s UC), Grafton, ON
  • Christ U.C., Lyn, ON
  • Four Rivers Presbytery, Perth, ON
  • Shining Waters Presbytery, Peterborough, ON
  • Upper Valley Presbytery, Perth, ON
  • Andrew’s U.C., Peterborough, ON
  • Mark’s U.C., Cannifton, ON
  • Sydenham Street U.C., Kingston, ON
  • Trinity-St. Andrew’s U.C., Brighton, ON
  • Trinity U.C., Cobourg, ON
  • Paul’s U.C., Warkworth, ON
  • Peterborough and Area Affirm United, Peterborough, ON  
  • Port Hope U.C., Port Hope, ON
  • John’s U.C., Marathon, ON

Montreal & Ottawa Conference

  • Église unie Saint-Pierre, Québec City, QC
  • First U.C., Ottawa, ON
  • Summerlea U.C., Lachine, QC
  • Beaconsfield U.C./ West Island LGBTQ Centre

Maritime Conference

  • Bedford U.C., Bedford, NS
  • Maritime Conference, Sackville, NB
  • Matthew’s U.C., Halifax, NS
  • West Side U.C.,, Pentz, NS
  • Truro Presbytery, Kemptown, NS
  • Kingston Pastoral Charge (Kingston, Margaretville, & Torbrook Mines UC), Kingston, NS
  • Clifton Pastoral Charge (Old Barns & Hilden UC), Old Barns, NS
  • Report expected to arrive soon: Shelburne Pastoral Charge (Trinity & Lower Ohio Union Church), Shelburne, NS

It continues to be an honour and a blessing to collect the reports from Affirming Ministries throughout The United Church of Canada, and to support the work of Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble.

Respectfully submitted,

Jordan Sullivan: Ministry Partnership Animator, and LGBTQ+ Justice

General Council, United Church of Canada