McDougall United Church in Calgary joined that city’s growing Affirming family in December 2016. Here at AUSE we’re often asked what the Affirming process looks and feels like.So McDougall kindly shared the details of their journey. May it inspire you and your ministry.
As the writer, chairperson Shirley Wilding notes, “It has been an exciting and rewarding journey to become part of an Affirming Ministry and to be recognized as a Standing Committee of our church Council. We know the real work of being affirming is just beginning, and we welcome the challenge and the reward!”
Our dedicated nine-member Affirming Working Group first met on November 14, 2015 and began to plan events right away. In December, we started to submit informational/educational articles to the church’s monthly newsletter. One of our members took our pictures and made a poster of our affirming group for display at the information table.
With Council’s approval of our budget in January 2016, we hosted an Italian dinner and “Mambo Italiano” movie, the support for which we felt great encouragement. A couple of weeks later we hosted a soup-and-bun lunch and the film “Fish out of Water”.
We set up a special section in our church library for LGBTQ books which we received on loan from Calgary Outlink.
In February, we hosted a staged reading of the play “Oblivion” by Jonathan Brower (Third Street Theatre) and we were pleased to see several folks attending from the wider community. We also were fortunate to have a special guest, Pam Rocker, as part of a Sunday service to answer questions on her experience of coming out and its spiritual implications.
We set up a “You Wanted to Know” box where we invited anonymous questions from the congregation which were answered and printed out for everyone’s benefit. This process was most beneficial to our efforts. The congregation‘s input was what we needed, even if it wasn’t all positive. The church members appreciated our openness and our honest answers to their concerns.
In March, our offering was a Lunch & Learn with guests from the LGBTQ community and their Stories of Coming Out. Two members of our congregation also spoke, and we felt that all the presentations made a significant impact on those attending.
Five of our committee members attended a meeting of the Calgary Affirming and Friends Network where we felt truly supported.
In April, we hosted a Saturday workshop facilitated by Linda Hunter titled The Elephant in the Room, which we thought was very successful in bringing out some important issues.
Then we distributed a congregational survey asking responders if they had enough information to vote, if they wanted to vote in June or in the Fall, and if they had any suggestions for other affirming events or activities. Of the 96 returned, 84 were ready to vote in June while 12 preferred voting in the Fall. After much discussion, our group agreed on September to allow more time for the undecided.
A Lunch & Learn and the documentary film “Gen Silent” were offered in June. This film was especially important for the seniors in our congregation and we were happy to have a community person join us as well.
In September, we planned, prepared and served the community BBQ for McDougall’s extremely successful Fall Festival and, a week later, hosted the play “Heterophobia” by Pam Rocker, the Affirming Coordinator at Hillhurst United Church. These were particularly encouraging events as we approached our congregational vote. We made a donations basket available at all of our hosted events.
Our group made donations to Camp fYrefly Calgary and to the Calgary Queer Church, and donated the book “And Tango Makes Three” for Children’s Time. Some members attended the Prayer & Solidarity Gathering around the Orlando shootings, some attended “An Act of Love” at the Fairy Tales Festival and some walked in the Pride Parade September 4th.
We met on June 29, July 10, August 10 and September 5 to put together and finalize our Affirming Vision Statement, Inclusive Marriage Policy and our Plan of Action, with valuable input from Brian Mitchell-Walker of Affirm United and from our own Rev. Joanne Anquist. On September 25th, we received an 88.8% approval vote from our congregation to officially become an Affirming Ministry.
It was an exciting day for our committee!
We held our first annual Affirming Celebration on December 11th with prayers, lighting of candles, reading of letters and notes of congratulations, and receiving of the Affirm United Certificate from Joe Reina, a member of Hillhurst’s Affirming Ambassadors Team. The service was followed with a celebration of cake and coffee. It was an emotional and rewarding day for all of us!
We plan to have a movie night per month beginning in February 2017 and then host a conference/seminar on “Safe Spaces” in the Fall.
It has been an exciting and rewarding journey to become part of an Affirming Ministry and to be recognized as a Standing Committee of our church Council. We know the real work of being affirming is just beginning, and we welcome the challenge and the reward!