Seeking new Affirming Ministry Coordinators

If God’s love for all is the soul of all we do, then Affirming ministries are the heart. Over one hundred and thirty United Church of Canada ministries of all kinds make up the Affirming movement; these ministries have made a public declaration of support and inclusion  for and with sexual and gender minorities in the church, in their communities, and around the world.  (If you want to know more about being Affirming, see this excellent short video  from Hillhurst United Church, and our website’s Affirming Ministries section.)

In addition, ninety or so ministries  are in the process of becoming Affirming, a journey of discernment and action that takes at least a year. Ninety ministries—that adds up to a lot of good work, and we’d love to see that number grow.

ReceivingAffirmingcertificate-AnneHebb
(Anne Hebb, left, presents Maritime Conference with its Affirming certificate this October.)

The volunteers who accompany ministries in the Affirming process are currently Linda Hutchinson (East) and Brian Mitchell-Walker (West). Recently, East Coast coordinator Anne Hebb took a much needed retirement from her role. Linda and Brian are skilled, compassionate, and very dedicated people who accompany ministries all the way through the process. And we’d love for them to have more help. Here’s a job description of the vital work they do.

If you or someone you know feels called to help Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble continue to expand the Affirming family by accompanying ministries in the process or considering the process, please get in touch with us at affirmunited@affirmunited.ca
We would love to talk further!

Reflection: More than anything, the church needs to listen

Michiko Bown-Kai is a queer person of colour who currently lives in Toronto, Ontario (Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Anishinabek Territories).  They are a candidate for ministry within the United Church of Canada and are currently studying at Emmanuel College in the Masters of Divinity program.  They find joy in dancing, crafting, and blogging.  In August 2015, Michiko became Affirm United/ S’affirmer ensemble’s new co-chair. In Spring 2015 they were asked to contribute a story for the final print edition of Xtra! Toronto. The accompanying photo ran, but the story did not. Here is what Michiko wanted to say.

MichikoBown-KaiinlastprinteditionofXtra-TorontoA while ago, I was asked to appear in the final print issue of Xtra! (Toronto) where I was photographed and interviewed for an article they were writing about religious leadership in ‘the community’. I am disappointed with the focus that the accompanying article gave to particular issues such as gay marriage- not because this issue isn’t worthwhile or that gay marriage doesn’t address some real needs of community members – but because this story is that one that always gets told at the expense of all other stories. So, for those of you that want more than a picture of my face, you can read below:

I think there is still a large perception out there that you can’t be queer and/or trans if you are Christian. When I think about how there are some voices in Christianity which get a lot of air time that are overtly homophobic I can understand why. This homophobic narrative is often compounded by the silence or indifference that comes from Christians who claim to be queer and trans positive.

The thing is, when we actually look at the Bible it is full of stories of exile, persecution, finding hope in resistance to Empire, building community with the marginalized, prophetic gender benders. There are many places for a queer person to feel spiritually at home.

In today’s context, of doing ministry here in Toronto, I don’t see how we can honour Jesus’ legacy without being intentional about uplifting the experiences of queer and trans folks, especially those who are also poor, disabled, and people of colour.

Jesus’ ministry was based on healing and building community. It was also about fighting back to power. My experiences of queerness as dismantling harmful ideas and building resilient communities is an integral part to my Christian spirituality. My Christian experiences of lament, creative non-violence, and storytelling are integral to my queerness.

My ministry stems from the realization that oppression is an act of violence which has spiritual consequences. I believe the church has been called time and time again to ministry that specifically engages with homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny in our society, and that prophetic voices have been from beyond the confines of white supremacy and patriarchal standards. I believe that the church has a responsibility to intentionally engage in helping queer and trans people explore their feelings about religion, God, and spirituality in ways that feel safe. (The church) is a site of trauma for many people and they deserve to have the tools and space to heal from that.

In my interview I was asked what I wanted to say to members of LGBTQ communities and my answer was this: more than anything, the church needs to listen- with the intent to learn and be challenged. The Gospel is written on the hearts of so many queer and trans folk, so the church doesn’t need to speak: the church needs to be a witness so that from there we can engage in true solidarity.

Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble Welcomes United Church’s Apology Process

(Version en français ici)

Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble is excited to hear the news that The United Church of Canada’s General Council has voted to begin a process of a living apology to LGBTT2Q persons. We look forward to working with the United Church to live into this promise. We congratulate the General Council on this important way forward.

Collin Smith, president of the AU/SE Council.
GC42 Continue reading “Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble Welcomes United Church’s Apology Process”

Announcing our 2015 honourees:

Affirming Ministry and volunteers of the year awards

Every year, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble is pleased to honour ministries and volunteers who have inspired us to new hope and energy over the past year and beyond. With gratitude we name the exceptional contributions of Trinity- St. Andrew’s United Church in Brighton, ON; of Brian Mitchell-Walker; and of Rev. Shaun Fryday.

Affirming Ministries Award, 2015: Trinity- St. Andrew’s United Church, Brighton ON.

Submitted by Judy Amsbury

In June 2012, Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in Brighton, ON became the firstTrinity-StAndrews Affirming Ministry in Hills and Shores Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference. They have hosted a Conference Affirming Ministry workshop and have mentored five more congregations as they successfully worked through their Affirming Ministries process, advising, encouraging, loaning resources, and meeting with Affirming committees.  Hills and Shores now has the highest percentage of Affirming ministries in Canada.  TSA has walked in the Belleville PRIDE Parade for the last 3 years and proudly marched with their banner at World Pride in Toronto in 2014.

Social Justice in Action
Situated in a large fruit-growing area on the shores of Lake Ontario which employs hundreds of temporary migrant workers, TSA has a much needed and unique outreach program, Friends with Migrant Workers Brighton whose mission is to build community with migrant workers through friendship and hospitality.

They offer a safe space for the workers to meet every second Sunday July through October, to socialize, enjoy a nutritious meal somewhere other than in their bunkhouse, and share stories and concerns. As one of their main links to the community, TSA provides information about community resources and activities. They also collect used clothing & sundries and help find affordable items such as suitcases, warm clothing, laptops, etc. The Quinte Community Health Centre provides extended hours on Thursdays, and workers are driven there if they need medical attention.

Notes of Hope
Members meet monthly to write “urgent action” letters regarding human rights abuses and other issues.

Trinity St Andrew’s Affirming process was a resoundingly successful model of thoughtful planning, effective listening, respectful and thorough communication, particularly in the initial stages when met with some quite vocal concerns.

Volunteer of the Year Award: Brian Mitchell-Walker

Former AU/SE president Annette Taylor writes,

“I am nominating Brian Mitchell-Walker for the Affirm United/S’affirmer ensemble BrianMitchell-WalkerVolunteer Award.  Brian has been involved in the work of AU/SE since the 1980’s, beginning with the Affirm Group in Toronto.  He was a part of the National Coordinating Committee, including the role of secretary in the mid 1990’s.  Brian was a very active member of the AU-SE Council from 2006 to 2012 and was an effective Co-Chair for three years.

Brian has also been involved in the Affirming Ministries program since the 1990’s.  He has taken the role of consultant, Affirming Ministries Coordinator, Co-Chair of the Affirming Ministries group and mentor to new Affirming Ministry Coordinators.

Brian also chaired the United Church of Canada’s National GLBTT Consultation, which involved planning 10 regional gatherings across the country in order to collect information about how homophobia and heterosexism are present in the church.   There were many recommendations from that consultation including the need for an apology.  As a result of this work a proposal is coming to General Council 42 called Living Apology to Members of the LGBTTQ Communities.

Brian has been the AU/SE webmaster for over 10 years, first as a volunteer and in recent years under contract to the AU-SE Council.  He now works closely with our new AU-SE Coordinator to ensure that the work of the AU-SE Council, and our Affirming Ministries is available to everyone.

Brian has been a relentless advocate for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities for many years and I believe he would be a very worthy recipient of the AU-SE Volunteer Award.”

Volunteer of the Year Award: Rev. Shaun E. Fryday

“It is with great pleasure, on behalf of the LGBTQ Youth Centre and the West Island ShaunFrydayRainbow Seniors Center in Beaconsfield, QC that we nominate Reverend Shaun Fryday for the Volunteer of the Year Award.

As the minister of Beaconsfield United, the Affirming congregation from which our centres emerged, Shaun’s steadfast commitment to the integrity of our programs and the intentional living-out of the congregation’s commitment to the LGBTQ community has been outstanding. In addition to providing the leadership and insight into the development of our centres, Shaun also volunteers his services of care, support, guidance, and spirituality that arise from those we serve. It is for this part of Shaun’s dedication and commitment to the LGBTQ community, that drives the nomination for the 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Affirm committee.

Shaun models inclusion through his attentive care, but also through his advocacy. Whether as a participant on a monthly radio talk show, through print media or speaking engagements, Shaun paves the way for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in association with the church wherever he goes. On two separate occasions Shaun has spoken on LGBTQ issues at International Human Rights conferences at his own expense. More importantly, to those of us whom he is representing and returning to after these endeavours, he is an example of how to live inclusion. Shaun responds to any need of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two- spirited, queer and questioning youth, adults and seniors, and this dedication has made a significant difference and transformed lives. He further volunteers his time contributing his quiet presence in the background, offering encouragement and support to volunteers, board members, and program participants alike.

With Shaun’s energy and commitment, LGBTQ inclusion in church and society at Beaconsfield United and as lived through the Youth, Adult and Seniors centres involves: Gay Prom; Summer and Winter Camp; biweekly BBQ’s and dinners; parent’s group, regular drop- in schedule; gay-straight alliance development in high schools; concerts in the park; workshops on overcoming homophobia and so much more. Shaun’s dynamism and commitment to inclusion both in society and at Beaconsfield United, as lived through the community, is the knowledge that our centres and the church are a place of welcome for all people, and is widely celebrated within Montreal’s West Island Community. Shaun truly welcomes everyone into the church and centres with the same equal measure of hospitality, care, and responsibility. Shaun’s door is always open, his embrace always welcoming and his voice always heard holding up the marginalized.

We are honoured to be part of the vision of Affirming that Shaun has implemented, and we whole-heartedly nominate him for the Volunteer of the Year Award.”

AU/SE at General Council 42 in Corner Brook, NL

And for our final summer item: From Halifax, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble will head east to the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. If you’re going to be at the United Church of Canada’s triennial national meeting, the 42nd General Council, please stop by our display for a visit! (Note that visitors to General Council are welcome.) If you are familiar with AU/SE and/ or belong to an Affirming ministry or ministry in process, we also invite you to volunteer at the display for an hour or two.  Help us have good conversations with the commissioners, planners, volunteers, and guests. You can find us in the display area; please ask at the venue for location details.

Affirming Ministry Coordinator: Call for volunteers and nominations

Anne Hebb, our coordinator for Affirming Ministries in Eastern Canada, is stepping down after many years of helping ministries with their Affirming process. Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble is deeply grateful to Anne for her contributions. Along with Brian Mitchell-Walker for the West and Linda Hutchinson for Ontario, and their predecessors, Anne has helped more than 120 ministries across Canada become intentionally safer and more welcoming of the LGBTQ community. Our thanks go to these skilled and compassionate volunteers who are at the heart of helping our church make its policies a lived reality.

Click here for a description of this important work (PDF)

If you are interested in or feel called to this work, and would like to join the other two Affirming Ministry coordinators in this crucial and rewarding work, please send a note to the nominating committee of Affirm United at affirmunited@affirmunited.ca

StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom

As spring emerges and the end of the 2015 school year approaches, the sight of smiling teens emerging from limousines dressed to the nines with corsages and carefully coiffed hair becomes commonplace. As teenagers, we are taught that our high school prom is meant to be the pinnacle of our high school experience, a celebration of all the hard work and growing that we have done. However, this is not the case for everyone—being anywhere under the LGBTQ umbrella can make prom an extremely stressful and even sad time. Many queer teens feel awkward expressing themselves at prom, be it by bringing a same-sex partner, wanting to wear a tux when others expect them to wear a dress, or having a whole room of straight peers stare when they dance with your date. Many are flat out not allowed. Continue reading “StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom”