Why P.I.E? at Kamloops United Church

A talk offered by Christine Dolson March 17 for Affirming PIE Day 2019 (drawing the circle wide on or after Pi Day and exploring Public, Intentional, and Explicit celebration/ welcome of LGBTQIA+ and Two Spirit people.)

Good morning!

As you can see we have a bit of a pastry situation going on.

I want to talk to you about pie, all kinds of pie and about some of our pie practices around here.

Affirm United is the national organization that works for the full inclusion of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations in the United Church, and in wider society. They help ministries to become truly welcoming safer sacred spaces. In 2019, to have a little fun and build awareness, they declared that March 14 would be National Affirming Pie Day. Today, belatedly, KUC is celebrating PIE day.

Why PIE ? Well… Public; Intentional; Explicit is the standard for an affirming welcome of LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit people. Two-spirit is a uniquely Indigenous identity.

Why Pi?    Love is a circle. It’s irrational, inclusive and infinite. So why not add that affirming twist to International Pi Day celebrations on March 14?

Why pie? …Why not?  Pie makes everything better!

So let’s slice up some PIE.

The P is for Public. An affirming ministry, like KUC, uses symbols and signs which are echoed inside and outside the church building, in worship, and in all other facets of church life. The ministry and its people show up in public spaces to support gender and sexual diversity, especially when local or global events lead to vulnerability, silencing and violence. The broader community should know what an Affirming Ministry stands for: a witness to the wider community that God’s love extends to everyone equally and without reserve.

The I in PIE is for Intentional. Being LGBTQIA+-welcoming should always be an intentional act, not an afterthought or an easy assumption. Many people and groups, the church included, assume that gender and sexual diversity are now fully accepted, so “special” efforts are no longer needed. This isn’t true. The suicide numbers and the continuing violence alone tell us that we’re a long way from full acceptance. And even if LGBTQIA+ people were fully welcomed everywhere in Canada, the churches of today have inherited centuries of transphobic and homophobic oppression carried out in the name of the Gospel. Affirming churches are still a minority, and that minority needs to express radical love with intention.

An Affirming ministry is deliberate in their process of study, education and dialogue with members of their faith community. An Affirming ministry continues to look for ways it can learn and grow. Including pronouns on name tags; watching for advocacy opportunities; continuing to expand and challenge our theology and biblical understandings through study and conversation… all of these, when done with Intention, can be transformative.

And the E is for Explicit.  To name explicitly!  There is a power in a name, especially when LGBTQIA+ names have for centuries been used as insults, and Two Spirit identities have been violently oppressed and suppressed by Christianity and colonization. An Affirming ministry needs to be loud and proud about who it welcomes. Many ministries have mentioned what happens when they put a rainbow banner or Trans* flag outside their building: it disappears. Or they get angry emails. Or hateful graffiti. Their response: put the banner back up again. Incorporate the graffiti into art. Respond to the emails. And keep on naming their welcome.

Being Explicit in our living out as an Affirming ministry means that we should explicitly indicate in our Mission and Vision statement – and everywhere else! – that the LGBTQ+ community is a part of and embraced in all facets of church life.

A very important way that we live out being public, intentional and explicit is in our spiritual practices.

Our worship here each Sunday is built on a series of spiritual practices. Practices that connect us to God, to our personal faith, and to our community of faith.  We begin with the sound of the singing bowl, drawing us in. There is music, the prayer box is placed and the Christ candle is lit centering us and uniting us. We issue a welcome. We pray, hear scripture, sing, and listen to reflections, sing some more, present the offerings, and finally listen to a few brief announcements. We rise once more, and sing again. And then have coffee!

Being Affirming means that we, KUC, seek to be in Allyship with LGBTQIA+ and Two-spirit people.  Allyship is a process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. KUC is also committed to Reconciliation and being in Allyship with Indigenous people. Allyship is a lifelong continuous journey; it is not a place at which we can claim to have arrived.

Allyship is also a spiritual practice, which as the term practice suggests, means that it involves actions that we do again and again. One of the spiritual practices in our worship here at KUC is the welcome. Every week, the worship leader welcomes all who are present and invites introductions, and as part of that welcome there is an acknowledgement that we are on the unceded lands of the tk’emlups te Secwepemc.

The KUC welcome continues with a statement that Kamloops United Church is an Affirming community of faith welcoming all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Every week, same thing.

And we already understand all of this, right? The ramp is painted like a rainbow, the Affirm symbol hangs permanently in our sanctuary, Indigenous art is displayed in our building, and there are pictures on the website of KUC folk participating in the Pride parade and walking for MMIWG.

And KUC is so much more than just Affirming and Reconciling…the list of groups and individuals doing so many different things in the church and in the community, all on behalf of Kamloops United Church, is pages and pages long. So we wonder sometimes why the Affirming and Reconciliation are the parts of our identity that get specifically named in our weekly welcome.

I mean really, is it truly necessary to repeat this affirmation every Sunday?

The answer is yes. The public, intentional and explicitly naming welcome that we repeat. That is a spiritual practice. Just as we engage in the spiritual practices of prayer, and of lighting the Christ candle every time as we ready ourselves for worship, the spiritual practice of the Indigenous lands acknowledgement and the explicitly Affirming welcome to those who are LGBTQIA+, helps us to remind ourselves that the unconditional love taught by Christ empowers us to extend that love to all. We are reminded that this is who we are. That explicit welcome…is …a prayer.

Those public, intentional and explicit words of welcome do not describe all that we are and do, but they do capture the heart of all that we are. Those simple words that name specific guests at our table shine a light on our conviction that all are beloved children of God.

So even though we who are here most weeks know that KUC is Affirming, we all benefit from the spiritual practice of that explicit weekly welcome…and we never know when there might be someone here for the first time that really needs to hear that they are truly welcome. For someone who identifies as being part of a group that traditionally has been excluded and hurt by church…it can make all the difference.

At the hospitality workshop in Kelowna last month, I attended the session on ‘Allyship as a spiritual practice’ and I shared with the group that KUC has a practice of including at the beginning of every service a land acknowledgement, and an explicit Affirming welcome. After the session, another participant took me aside because they really wanted to tell me what a difference it had made to them to hear that welcome when they visited a service. (third slide)

So PIE is good, being PIE is good, so more Pie for everyone!

After the service today, I hope you will come right back into the sanctuary and have some pie, and watch a PIE video made to celebrate National Affirming Pie Day. Kamloops United Church is one of 4-5 churches from BC to PEI featured in the video.

Let’s practice PIE. Nothing says Love like Pie!