Yes, it’s true, Canadian Memorial United Church is already welcoming in several significant ways – we have gender neutral washrooms, LGBTQ folk in leadership positions, same-sex couples and families in our congregation, and perform same-sex weddings and baptisms of children of LGBTQ parents.
So why do we need to think about becoming Affirming?
Consider that many churches today who say all are welcome, still exclude LGBTQ people to varying degrees from outright condemnation and/or encouraging conversion therapy, to allowing membership but excluding leadership, to allowing single or celibate LGBTQ people to participate but refusing marriage or baptism of children, to polite indifference and silence. LGBTQ folk are rightly wary of being discriminated against and rejected by the church. Even within the United Church of Canada, there are many congregations who do not fully welcome and include LGBTQ people. Of the 3000 congregations in Canada, only 169 ministries (which also includes retreat centres, presbyteries and conferences), have the Affirming designation. In Vancouver, there is only one actively worshiping Affirming congregation, St. Andrews-Wesley United Church.
Becoming Affirming is an explicit show of our belief that all sexual orientations and gender identities are part of God’s divine plan and gift of diversity in humanity. It is a public affirmation to let the wider community know that we are a safe place not only for LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, and Canadians, but also for their families, friends and allies to find a place to belong and a home to worship in.
From Affirm United’s FAQs , the distinction between welcoming and affirming can be summarized as Public, Intentional, and Explicit.
Public: An Affirming Ministry uses symbols and signs of LGBTQ inclusion (such as rainbow candles, banners, signage the clearly states LGBTQ folk are welcomed, Affirming ministry logos visible on websites and in sanctuary) which are echoed outside and inside the church building, in worship, and in all other facets of church life. The broader community should also know what it stands for; a witness to the wider community that God’s love extends to everyone equally and without reserve. This is still a radical message!
Intentional: An Affirming Ministry is deliberate in their process of study, education and dialogue with members of their faith community (both during the Affirming process and as a piece of their ongoing work), to ensure that the history of oppression and discrimination by the Church is both understood and acknowledged, and that continued growth, education, and celebration are part of its ministry.
Explicit: Affirming Ministries should explicitly indicate in their Mission and Vision statement – and everywhere else! – that the LGBTQ+ community is a part of and embraced in all facets of church life. And as part of the Affirming process, their faith community will explore and explain how to live out that commitment.
Here’s an interesting article on a new website called Church Clarity in the States that seeks to inform LGBTQ worshippers in advance of whether a church is actually as safe and welcoming as its website proclaims.
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