Humans of Canadian Memorial: Hannes and Lonnie

Hannes: I grew up Dutch-Reformed, my Grandfather was a reverend, and we lived in a small community where everyone went to church. And then I was drawn to an evangelical church. They had an ex-gay ministry there to help people change from being gay to being straight. And that’s how Lonnie and I met in 2005: we were at a Living Waters Conference together and I was a small group facilitator and he was doing the music.  We became really good friends just in that week and when he went back to Canada we stayed in contact.

Lonnie: I was born and baptized Catholic but my mom was United and tried to embrace Catholicism but couldn’t do it. So we didn’t’ really go to church. But I was pretty spiritual as a kid and found my way to the Pentecostal Church and that’s when I eventually became a music pastor. But it became too rigid and legalistic and eventually ended up at an Alliance church. And that’s when I wasn’t able to maintain the integrity of my sexuality. I wasn’t buying it anymore, the idea that you can live as a healthy heterosexual even though you have all these gay inclinations. Leaving was the best thing because I needed to get out and figure out my theology and sexuality. It was a wonderful emancipation.

Hannes: When I went to work on a cruise ship as a photographer, I suddenly saw all these people that have come from all over the world with different beliefs. I became really good friends with so many of them. The love that I felt for them, I thought, surely God feels the same and more. I couldn’t see how God would send them all to hell. And when I came back to Cape Town, that’s when the coming out process happened for me. But then I didn’t think there could be a place for me in the church and I didn’t see a need for it. But when we came to Canadian Memorial, and they said “everyone is welcome” I said “Oh my gosh, I am truly welcomed here”.

Lonnie: I found the choir and the church to be very receptive and there was a vibrancy. What I sensed was a sincere curiosity of spirituality and openness to other ideas including a gospel way of expression. And I thought “What? The UCC is actually spiritually hungry?” So when we sing these songs, I love the sense that we can become open to more things. So now, for me, going to church is enjoyable. It used to be a lot of work, a lot of pressure. People were coming to worship to meet with Jesus. And I have to facilitate that. You want to do things that are appealing and that resonate with people but by no means do I feel responsible for making things happen for anyone. And I always go away being surprised at how I connect at a heart level, in a way I didn’t expect to.