Church for Every Body

Bathrooms have been in the news a lot lately, due largely to new and existing laws in many US states which require people to use the bathroom which corresponds with the sex they were identified with at birth, rather than the gender that best fits for them.

Welcome to CMUC’s new Gender Neutral Bathrooms! 
Welcome to CMUC’s new Gender Neutral Bathrooms!

Our culture tends to limit it’s understanding of gender to only two options: man and woman. Here at Canadian Memorial, we recognize that there are more than two genders, and an infinite variety of gendered experience in the world.

Many of the single-stall bathrooms at Canadian Memorial have been gender-neutral for years, because that is what made the most logistical sense. A few weeks ago we updated the signs on our two most frequently-used bathrooms, on the main floor of the Centre for Peace. Transgender and gender-variant people often experience anxiety and abuse around bathroom use. And we wanted to be very clear that all bodies are welcome here.

Interested in learning more? Read on!


Who Benefits from Gender Neutral Bathrooms?

  • People who are uncomfortable in men’s or women’s rooms for many reasons; for example, people who are not women or men and/or people who are gender nonconforming
  • Parents/caregivers whose children are a different gender from them
  • People with caregivers or personal attendants who are a different gender from them

Resources on gender neutral bathrooms 

Basic Definitions About Gender Identity

Biological Sex: The biological attributes such as anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones that inform whether a person is male, female, or intersex. Where sex refers to biology, gender refers to the cultural and social understandings that are layered on top of biology.

Gender Identity and Expression: Gender Identity is an individual’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, and so on. That identity is expressed in the ways in which a person manifests masculinity, femininity, both, or neither through appearance, behavior, dress, speech patterns, preferences, and more.

Gender Binary: A system of classifying sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected forms—male/man/masculine and female/woman/feminine—and assigning all bodies, identities, roles, and attributes to one side or the other. The gender binary is dependent on policing people to make sure they don’t digress from the system in appearance, anatomy, or behavior.

Sexual Orientation: The gendered pattern of a person’s sexual attractions, or the gender of the people a person is attracted to. Gender identity refers only to a person’s own self. Gender and sexual orientation are often lumped together, despite being different. Transgender individuals can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, straight, or any other sexual orientation. Everyone has a sexual orientation.

Transgender: First coined to distinguish gender benders with no desire for surgery or hormones from transsexuals, those who desired to legally and medically change their sex, more recently transgender, trans, and/or trans* have become umbrella terms popularly used to refer to all people who transgress dominant conceptions of gender, or at least all people who identify themselves as doing so. The definition continues to evolve.

Cisgender: A term that is becoming increasingly popular to describe people who are not trans or gender variant—in other words, those whose gender identities, presentations, and behavior “match” (according to the gender binary) the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender Non-Conforming / Gender Variant: General terms for people who bend gender in some way and/or have non-binary gender identities.

* From:


Rev Chris Dierkes, Sunday October 19

Chris Dierkes Vancouver Evolutionary Christianity

Back by popular request, our favourite Anglican Priest and Soul Worker, Rev Chris Dierkes, is our guest speaker this Sunday.

Chris spent four years living as a monk in early his twenties and later worked for three years as an Anglican priest in Vancouver. He has recently begun his own private practice in soul readings and clearing work. You can learn more about Chris and his work here

And here’s a post-view of his sermon when he was with us in July.

August 3rd, 2014: Holy Spirit, Holy Body by Rhian Walker

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1 Corinthians 6:19
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?
1 Corinthians 12:13
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Sermon- Holy Spirit, holy body

I’m going to tell you a story. When I was 25 I was doing a masters degree in Philosophy at the University of Sussex in England, trying to figure out what on earth to do for a living. This path of being a minister was definitely not on the radar, I didn’t go to church except for as a tourist. During that time I was living in the seaside town of Brighton. Now Brighton is unusual because it acts as a kind of hub for literally all types of people. While I was there I met

a Numibian Freedom fighter, an Ecuadorian artist, and Spanish teenagers earning money for university doing data entry. To afford this, I had 5 roommates and one of them was this tall, vibrant woman with long red hair from the British Isles, let’s call her Gwen. She was one of those optimistic people, often in the face of adversity: she had recently lost her father to Parkinson’s, and during her Ph D this super fit woman got sciatica and literally couldn’t move yet somehow worked away on her thesis with her leg elevated and never complained. Now sometimes that relentlessly positive attitude can just be about ignoring reality, but in her case it seemed to be more about saying “yes” to her life, whatever shape it took.

At the time her older sister was about to give birth and she went into labour during exams. It was a much-hoped for pregnancy, so when the text came Gwen was thrilled and kept updating us as we studied in the communal kitchen and our dorm rooms. The labour was stretching out, and unfortunately, things started to go wrong. Very wrong. And at one point, the normally buoyant and unshakeable Gwen came running into my room, all 5 foot 11 of her, with this crying sentence coming out of her mouth and her arms outstretched, because what was happening was turning into a kind of nightmare.  I turned to her and here is where language is going to show its limitation, where language isn’t going to touch what this felt like, and is going to be easy to dismiss or pick apart. But I am going to try anyway. As I turned I felt something rush in and flood my whole body. It was not adrenalin, there was no fast heart beat or hyper-alert energy or awareness. Instead I felt completely calm, completely present and what was pouring out of my fairly reserved self was love. And while I am not a tall woman, I managed to wrap her fully in a hug, like a parent holding their child.

And I just held her in silence for a moment, we both went silent. I don’t know how long we stayed like that, but that flowing energy or love feeling didn’t stop. When we let go she stood back and looked at me and said “I’ve never felt a hug like that before.” And I knew what she meant, because neither had I. Somehow what held her then was me, but not only me, it felt as if something greater than myself participated in that embrace, that the love that flowed through me was limitless in its depth and its compassion. It felt like a wave, it felt like the holy and somehow I was a part of it.

The Christian tradition is full of unusual ideas and one of the most unusual is the idea of the Holy Spirit. It is not completely unique to Christianity. In Judaism it is referred to as ru-ach, which translates to “the breath” and it means the spirit of holiness or a holy feeling or state. It shows up in the creation stories, the breath of life that animates creation. In Islam the concept of the holy spirit is more like the action of divine communication between people and God, and, like in the Jewish tradition, it is also a kind of creative energy or spirit that seems to be animating life. What these two religions don’t say that Christianity does is that the Holy Spirit is a kind of third divine expression of God.

In the Christian spiritual tradition, the understanding of God involves this idea of not one, but three, three Divine expressions that are distinct but not separate.

For all of us who are new to Christianity, the tri-part God goes like this:  God (sometimes called the Father), Jesus Christ (sometimes called the Son) and the Holy Spirit (sometimes called the Holy Ghost). Now, as you can imagine, there has been a fair amount of scholarship about this rather confusing idea. In the 1200s something called the Fourth Lateran Council decided to issue a bit of a position statement on it, explaining:  “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds” and in their relations with one another, they are stated to be one in all else, co-equal, co-eternal and not separate , and yet “each is God, whole and entire”.[9] Accordingly, the whole work of creation and grace is seen as a single operation common to all three divine persons, in which each shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, so that all things are “from the Father”, “through the Son” and “in the Holy Spirit”.[10]

Clear as mud, right? So they are not separate but they are different somehow but equal but you need all three for life and grace to happen, sigh… You can see how many scholars might have written endless confusing books on the subject.

So let’s just look at the least confusing parts here: 1) Three is key: they can’t be broken apart, and 2) that the three all express particular ideas or energies. Some of you might be able to sense at a rhythm that is in this concept of the Trinity. It might help to view the Trinity not so much as three parts, but maybe instead a movement of the Divine energy through the world, through matter, and through mystery. Comparative religion author Karen Armstrong suggests we use the concept of the Trinity as an actual meditation and move through the concept by bringing our awareness through that flow: “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds”

So, if we remove the language of religion from this idea, you could reframe it and say something like: the Big Bang is God= the generative act, our universe is Jesus Christ= the begotten piece or the result of the generative act, and then the continual unfolding, growing and changing of life that we witness and are part of is the Holy Spirit. It is the part that proceeds, that comes forth, that evolves. You’ll see even from this clumsy example we are capturing an effable something: a certain kind of flow that we witness in our own lives and in the seasons, the animals, and the plants around us.  What the Trinity suggests at is the dynamic movement of life.

But of course, the Trinity is more than that. One can’t actually take the spiritual ideas out.  And what the Trinity is clear about it when it talks about the Holy Spirit is that it has one feature that is not in the idea of God or Christ: that the Divine can move into us. That this energy can enter into the body and is in fact part of our body. 1 Corinthians 6:19: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?

What that suggests about our bodies is a kind of sacredness, a preciousness, a belovedness that is surprising. After all, as Rev Dierkes said a few weeks ago, Christianity has often focused on the “ascending” part of Jacob’s ladder.

It has been a religion that looks to get away from the body, even shame the body. The body in recent times in the faith tradition has not been seen as holy, but as a kind of impediment to spiritual fulfillment.

And there is plenty of Biblical evidence for that perspective because we know there is all that uncomfortable talk about sin. This passage from First Corinthians is written by Paul, who is basically our church-building ancestor.  He is trying to unite a multi-cultural, multi-geographical group of people under some common set of rules and ideas that will let them live out the Way of Christ. And like anyone writing during a particular time, his focuses on what he see as the greatest threats and he can’t escape his personal biases. It is no accident that when people start something new, whether it is a religion, a club, a company or a government, we start with lots of openness and an “anything goes” attitude but then we start to move into something more rigid, more easily defined. This makes things easier to understand but we also lose that openness and transformation. So for Paul, this idea about the Holy Spirit being in our bodies and our bodies belonging to God soon turns into ideas about sin and purity, ideas that I think many of us have rejected because of the damage that has been created from that type of thinking. And I’m not convinced that was what Paul meant but that is another sermon.

If we look at the mystical implications of this passage, you’ll note the radical intimacy that is created here. This idea of the body being a temple for the Holy Spirit means that somehow the Divine can reside within us. That we have access to the Divine because we are a part of it. If you read about lives of mystics like Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avila, or Hildegard of Bengen, they all talk of moments in their lives where they feel the Holy Spirit fill up their bodies, light them as if they were candles and otherwise in some way work though the body to transcend their own ego, their own limitations and become part of the greater whole. This idea suggests a deep intimacy of the individual with God, along with the possibility to access God and have your body be a vessel for God. And this has great beauty and potential in it: for all the times we feel limited, unworthy and alone, this is a counter argument. Our bodies are holy. They can be the Holy, here on earth.

What cannot be missed about this conception of the Holy Spirit is that it can transform us and make us more than we think we are. As we heard from the second passage: 1 Corinthians 12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit., it suggests an intimacy and unity with all other people on the planet. The idea of the holy life force, this connection to the Divine then is the heritage and legacy of each and everyone of us. It is profound.

And this feels particularly important today, in this moment. The last few weeks have seen a tremendous amount of unrest, war, conflict and grief become known to the public consciousness.  And it is going to be really easy to forget the shared ancestry that is being stated in these passages: that we can be vessels for the holy, that we share one Spirit, that we are united as part of the Divine here on earth. Can we afford to forget that right now? So, I’d like to end the sermon a little differently, not with an idea, but with an experiment.

In my story today I suggested that maybe what Gwen and I experienced in that embrace was the Holy. And I imagine that some of you recalled moments in your life when you saw the common humanity, the common divinity, in another person. Perhaps you’re recalling a moment of divine connection now (pause).  So I am asking you to take a small leap with me this morning and turn to the person next to you and take their hand and look into their eyes and hold that eye contact. That’s all you need to do. Sarah and Rob are going to sing us a reflective song while we do this, and when that is over, I’ll say Amen and we can drop hands. This is just a chance for us to truly look at someone and see them fullyfor just a short moment in our day.




Taking action against Coal Port Expansion

What is the ethical response to energy issues and their effect on our planet? What should people of faith be doing right now to protect our planet? The Canadian Memorial Sustainability Circle has been working with community partners like Voters Taking Action on Climate Change to ask the BC Government to say no to allowing coal from Texada Island to go to the

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US, adding to climate change emissions and putting the Salish Sea at risk. The Sustainability Circle got over 50 faith leaders to sign onto a petition to the BC Government. Then, the BC Conference branch of the United Church of Canada

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got inspired by their work and put forward this motion: Proposal 2014-1 Coal_BC Conference_UCC_from DJ_2014_05_28

Protecting the planet is part of our spiritual work. Christianity has been used as a justification for exploiting the planet but Scripture is littered with references to the sacredness of creation. As spiritual people, we need to find the energy to engage the greater community in remembering why we all depend and value our planet so much. While it is daunting to imagine the amount of change required in how we use and harvest energy, it is also exciting to realize that this is in our power to make such changes. God had a vision of a world that was full of peace, justice and love for all. We can actively co-create that reality.

To learn more about the Sustainability Circle, contact Sheila Smith.

May 4, 2014: The Risk of Hospitality by Rev. Beth Hayward – Luke 24:13-35

It won’t be news to those of you who listen to top forty radio to hear that a little song called “Happy” is sweeping the airwaves.  If you haven’t heard it you may have heard the buzz around it.  There’s even a 24 hour YouTube video where you can sing and dance along to the four minute happy song no less than360 times.  One listen and you will be hard pressed to keep your foot from tapping: I promise.

It’s an escape song and you can’t help but feel just a little bit of the infectious happiness that it exudes.  Oprah insists that the power of the song is a result of singer Pharrell Williams channeling something greater than himself into his music.  That might be pushing it.  I wonder if the appeal of the happy song is the escape it offers from the other songs that so aptly describe our lives:  Tears in heaven, All by myself, How do you mend a broken heart.

In a world where news accounts are relentless in reminding us of the realities of environmental disaster, bacteria resistant super bugs, civil wars, child poverty and abuse,  who doesn’t need a dose of carefree happiness now and then?  The reality is that some heartbreak can’t be touched by a catchy tune. Some sadness is not that easily pushed aside.


 Later on that first Easter day some weary travelers are heading away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus:  a town that, for all intents and purposes, is nowhere.  They have heard about the empty tomb, whispers of a story of life from death but nothing can break though their grief and heartbreak.  They believed in this guy Jesus, trusted his message of a new kind of kingdom, and hoped that finally the last would be first, things would be different.  On Easter day they are leaving the place where their hopes died and are heading anywhere but here.

As they walk along the road a stranger comes along side and they begin to tell him all that went down in Jerusalem that week.  The travelers do two things on that road to nowhere that make all the difference.  They tell the stranger about their broken hopes AND they invite him to dinner.

After bringing the stranger up to speed on the events of Holy Week they exclaim:  “But we had hoped…”  But we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.  “So much is said in those four words, as they speak of a future that is not to be, a dream that created energy and enthusiasm but did not materialize, a promise that created faith that proved to be false. It speaks of a future that is closed off, now irrelevant, dead. And there are few things more tragic than a dead future. [1]

But we had hoped:  we know that plea.  But we had hoped she would improve, but we had hoped this opportunity would make all the difference, but we had hoped for the job, the second chance, the miracle… These words resonate in our personal lives and linger with our larger hopes and dreams for our society and world.  They are words that even a church community will say by times in its common life.

Given that it’s bring your friends to church Sunday it feels appropriate to share a bit of our “but we had hoped” stories, so that you have no illusions about what you’ve just walked into.  It has been one year since the resignation of this congregation’s long tenured and much valued minister.  His departure came just when we had a newly articulated vision and a plan of how to move towards that vision.  We were going to grow our church by deep care for one another and through sharing our vision of evolutionary Christianity far and wide. I was called here to be part of living out the vision.  And then everything changed.

But we had hoped the vision for our church would unfold just as we had planned, hoped things would carry on in the spirit led trajectory that we had put into place.  Instead we have spent a year in conversations around tables, in circles, working through the losses and picking up the pieces.  Certainly, in many ways, we have found our way back to hope but it is a hope that has been changed and shaped by what we have been through.

When someone tells us about their dashed hopes we can find ourselves in that awkward position of not knowing what to say.  We respond with niceties like:  time heals all, you’ll get over it or even buck up.  It is curious that the stranger on the road to Emmaus doesn’t respond with words of comfort or awkward encouragement.   Instead he tells them stories: the stories of their faith tradition that go way back to Moses and the prophets.  He tells them of people in other times who had articulated the same hope.  He reminds them that their hope is so much bigger than this one week in Jerusalem.  He tells them the stories of their people, grounding them in a story that is larger than their current devastation.

We have those stores to tell here in this community:  those stories that remind us that we are shaped in a story that is greater than our current reality and greater than our individual memories.  Stories like that of Rev Fallis: a military chaplain in World War II, who returned home with a blazing heart and a vision to build a church rooted in peace.  He promised the families of the soldiers he buried that he would build a church dedicated to peace.  He was so committed to his hope that he approached every province and territory in Canada and invited them each to donate a window to this church.  Each province and territory responded to his hope and his vision and sent a window: endorsing Fallis’ conviction that peace will always trump war.

We have stories to tell that don’t minimize our “but we had hoped” moments but rather lift up that there is more to the story.


The travellers named their broken hopes and then they did one more thing that changed everything. They extended hospitality, invited the stranger in for a meal.  The two who are void of hope choose to welcome the stranger. It is at the table as the stranger blesses and breaks the bread that suddenly the companions recognize him as Jesus.  In the breaking of the bread their muscle memory kicks in:  they remember something and go at once back to Jerusalem, back to the place where their hopes were dashed and broken, and they find the disciples and begin the difficult work of planting new hope.

The scriptures make it sound so easy and much theology has been born out of this story:  be sure to welcome the stranger for you never know when you may be welcoming the Christ.  But hospitality is often not that easy:  strangers can challenge our assumptions and get under our skin and bring things into the picture that leave us feeling uneasy.  Strangers can be the best thing that has happened to you or they can ruin an otherwise perfectly good evening. Extending hospitality is hard work.

Theologian Miroslav Volf tells a story from his teen years in Yugoslavia.  On the first Sunday of the month communion would be celebrated at the small Pentecostal church where his father was pastor.  A man from far in the country, the only Pentecostal in his village, would make the trek to the city for communion and invariably be invited by the pastor back to the manse for a meal.

As Volf recalls the meals he remembers resenting the visits:  mostly because the stranger slurped his soup through his bushy moustache.  Volf was sure his parents were no more impressed with the man’s table manners than he yet they repeatedly invited him.

Years later reflecting on the bad mannered stranger Volf reflects that his parents: “were extending the invitation to this stranger because they did not think one should hold the table of the Lord at which [his] father presided in the morning apart from the table at home whose head he was sitting at noon.”[2]  Welcoming the stranger is hard work.


Back in Emmaus something touches the companions’ memory of hope: maybe it was hearing the stories of their faith, or allowing the stranger into their home or re-enacting their last supper ritual: something in the hospitality shared touched their memory of hope.  It empowered those travelers to make a choice to return to the place where their hopes had been dashed.

Hospitality is born from the intimate dance of our hope and our heartache.  We can choose whether and when to extend hospitality: Christ never barges in the door. But always hospitality has the potential to begin the work of mending broken hearts into burning hearts. Hospitality never involves preachy answers or trite reassurances.  Genuine Christian hospitality creates space big enough to hold our hurts and big enough to promise us life.  Sometimes we simply need to take the risk of hospitality and see where it leads us.

Make no mistake about it: the spiritual practice of hospitality is hard work: our communal hopes and heartaches become mingled with our personal ones.   Some of us are brimming with hope and some of us can’t or won’t hope and that’s okay.  The places that Jesus led never took away the complexity of the human condition, never promised to leave us in a happy song state of mind.  Instead he leads us back into the difficult places so that we might be surprised by the new ways hope can take root.

People wonder why our pews here aren’t overflowing each and every Sunday, I dare say it lies in part with the fact that the stories we tell here are challenging.  We intentionally resist the easy answers because we know that the easy answers are not sustaining answers.  In this place we won’t sing you happy songs to cover over the hurts or to deny the truth of your brokenness.  In this place we will walk along side telling stories of hopes and loves and we will offer our tentative trust that God is big enough to hold all of this.

However you’ve come today: broken heart, burning heart or places in between you are welcome at the table to receive our imperfect hospitality.  Sometimes yesterday’s dishes will be on the counter, some days there will only be stale bread and cheap wine on offer but we are rooted in a tradition that is big enough to be vulnerable, a tradition that promises that the extension of messy hospitality is enough to break us open…all of us.


[2] Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass eds, Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2002, p.248.