Announcing AUSE’s 2017 Conference dates and location!

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble is delighted to announce that our 2017 annual conference will be shared in partnership with St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church and its wonderful Spirit Pride conference. The conference will be held July 28-30 in Vancouver, on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh unceded traditional territories. Spirit Pride precedes Vancouver Pride, which takes place over the August long weekend.

We look forward to planning a creative and inspiring LGBTQ and allies space with St. Andrew’s-Wesley.

More information will follow as planning gets underway. For now: save the date!

United Church Moderator visit to Amplify 16 Conference, Indonesia

In November 2016, Moderator Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell and Rev. Michael Blair, Executive Minister for the Church in Mission unit, visited Jakarta, Indonesia at the invitation of its theological seminary. There they contributed to Amplify 16, a pan-Asian Christian conference on LGBTQ+ rights, identities, and faith. The organizers explain the importance moderator-in-ause-tee-at-jakarta-theo-seminary-trans-conference-2-nov-2016of this amazing space and community:

“Amplify Ministries is a non-profit Christian organization on mission to proclaim and live out God’s inclusive love for all through supporting the development of theologically inclusive and LGBTIQ-affirming churches and ministries in the Asia Pacific….

AMPLIFY was born out of a call to be a blessing to the development of inclusive churches and ministries in Asia. From its beginnings in 2009, the conference provides a space for followers of Jesus Christ in the Asia Pacific region to worship, witness and wonder together; to explore and embody what ‘open and affirming’ means as we seek to be effective witnesses to the Gospel and meet the needs of our communities. ”

Moderator Jordan, Michael Blair, and a conference leader (Jakarta, Indonesia).

Moderator Jordan, Michael Blair, and a conference leader (Jakarta, Indonesia).

The Moderator writes, “I am struck by the incredible diversity of sexual and gender identities and how each culture has its own way of understanding, naming and expressing these. … It is particularly urgent that we listen to these diverse voices and experiences, because Canada is home to people from all over the world. Our ways of talking about and understanding gender and sexual diversity exclude and make invisible the experiences of many people within our church and the wider society.”

 

Affirming annual award: Honouring Jordan Sullivan

Every year, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble offers a volunteer award or Affirming ministry award to an individual and/ or ministry who have offered exceptional inspiration and energy to the difficult work of widening radical inclusion. We were honoured to present the 2016 individual award to Jordan Sullivan at our 2016 conference at Glebe-St James United Church in Ottawa.

Jordan is the Ministry Partnership Animator at the General Council office of the United Church of Canada. He connects with a very wide range of diverse communities and brings to those relationships both a love of endless details and a deep respect for all identities and all stories.

Jordan was raised Seventh-day Adventist, and was an elementary teacher in SDA schools. He also worked for the Canadian Mental Health Association for ten years. In 1999 Jordan earned an M.A. in Religious Studies, and began his ministry in The United Church of
Canada in 2000. Jordan blogs intermittently about his journey of transitioning at https://onbecomingjordan.wordpress.com

In his words, ““The truth has a way of slowly working its way to the surface – if we’re open to receiving it. Such has been the story of my life. I have now come to a point where publicly affirming who I am is very important to me. I am a trans man who is on a journey to live more authentically as a whole person – accepting the masculine energy/identity I denied and suppressed since I was a young teenager. I have transitioned while employed at the General Council Office, deeply blessed with the support of my colleagues as well as the United Church folk I work with across the country.”

Jordan has shown a consistent and long-term dedication to the work of Affirm United. His work at the General Council Office has often focused on staff support for our movement, but Jordan’s support goes above and beyond his staff role at the GCO. His collection of Affirming ministry reports have played an integral role in sharing the work of Affirm United with our networks and helping our organization learn and grow. He has helped us make connections with a wider range of ministries, including camps and the important human rights work that accompanies any connections with children and youth.

AU/SE is proud to recognize Jordan’s work, and to celebrate both his passion for the work of Affirm United and an inspiring belief in the work we do together.

 

Highlights from Affirming ministries, 2015-2016

 Every year, Affirming ministries are asked to give a short annual report. Jordan Sullivan, Ministry Partnership Animator, and LGBTQ+ Justice at the General Council office, takes on the enormous task of compiling highlights. Many thanks to Jordan and to all the ministries who reported for sharing your stories and inspiring us. Please take a moment to look at these hope-filled stories, and feel free to share them in other publications.  Continue reading

We affirm: A statement on the Orlando hate crime from Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble

14 June 2016

We do not have words for the mass murder carried out against our community last Sunday June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We do not have words for the 49 lives taken, the injured, the grieving families and friends and communities.

Many of us across Canada were celebrating Pride that weekend, and we welcomed a new Affirming ministry on Sunday.  We hold those victories and we feel the agony of the victims, the survivors, their families, and their communities, as well as the pain experienced by the first responders.

In the face of this violence which robbed us of so many young, diverse, beautiful spirits and bodies:

We affirm that the God who created us loves us unconditionally. God loves us as we are, and nothing can separate us from that love. We affirm that our identities are gifts from God, and to be treasured, not erased.

We affirm that LGBTQAI and Two-Spirit communities are resilient and strong, and will not allow ourselves to be cowed by hatred.  We are not going away. We will continue to celebrate the many wayswe express love privately and publicly, even in the face of oppression. We believe that God is a witness and celebrates all the ways LGBTQ people share their authentic selves with loved ones and community.

We affirm the importance of Pride, which is and has always been so much more than a party and a parade. Pride is resistance. It takes up beautiful, creative, colourful space in a society that continues to erase, marginalize, and assault us.

We affirm the importance of the love and solidarity shown in public and private by our heterosexual and cisgendered allies, families, friends. You are members of this movement too. Please continue to offer solidarity. It is needed.

We affirm that all struggles for justice are one, and so we reject Islamophobia completely. We refuse the temptation of racist blaming and commit to doing our own anti-racist work. We thank Muslim leaders for their rejection of this mass murder, and note that many Christian groups have not done so.

We affirm that homophobia and transphobia are expressions of hate and fear, not symptoms of “mental illness” or other such ableist, discriminatory language.

We affirm that religious and non-religious people and groups alike share responsibility for the climate of hate and fear that continues to be directed at LGBTQ communities.

We affirm support for all who reject and work against male violence and toxic masculinity.

We affirm the critical importance of being and becoming Affirming. These spaces are utterly essential.  Recent human rights advances do not change this. We ask all ministries in the United Church of Canada and beyond to consider how you can become publicly, intentionally, and explicitly welcoming of all LGBTQ+ children of God. Saying you are “welcoming of all” is not sufficient.

We affirm the vital role of all Affirming ministries in offering pastoral care, safe space, liturgy, and public resistance to homophobia and transphobia. You offer life in the midst of death-dealing violence. We ask that you carefully and prayerfully consider what you can offer to your communities in this moment.

We thank all who are organizing vigils and protests, and giving us space to mourn, to be angry, and to express love. Thank you for your life-giving work.

And we affirm the need to grieve in our own ways, to sit with our fear and sadness, and to be gentle with one another.

We think of our family in the United States as they continue to struggle against not only hate, but against gun laws that enable horrific deaths and injuries.  Please tell us how we can support you.  We ask Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble supporters to share the statement offered by our counterpart, the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

Finally, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble thanks the United Church of Canada and the Moderator for their thoughtful and challenging response to this mass murder.

We too echo the words of Jeremiah:

O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
—Jeremiah 9:1

— Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble, 14 June 2016.

Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble works for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in The United Church of Canada and in society. Our program helps ministries of every kind become publicly, intentionally, and explicitly welcoming of the LGBTQQIA+ and Two-Spirit communities.   www.ause.ca

Spring greetings from your co-chairs

Our February 2016 Council meeting in Toronto covered a lot of ground. Please click here for a full update from your elected co-chairs.
Among the highlights:
Welcoming a number of new members from British Columbia and Saskatchewan; connecting with Jordan Sullivan, our staff connection at the General Council office; a conversation with the Moderator; and work on program priorities such as our July annual conference; the United Church’s Living Apology and its intercultural vision; expanding our network of Affirming ministries while increasing support for existing ministries. Read on—this is your Council at work.

We welcomed new members Chris Mann (BC), David Cathcart (BC), and Cindy Bourgeois (SK) to their first in-person Council meeting.  We missed the presence of new Council member Serena Patterson (BC). We were especially pleased to welcome Cindy Bourgeois as secretary and member of the Executive.

Your 2016 Council:  Front, left-right: Michiko Bown-Kai (co-chair) and David Cathcart.   Second row: Jen Carter-Morgan, Judy Amsbury, Chris Mann, Jordan Sullivan (General Council staff).   Back: Julie Graham (AUSE staff), Collin Smith (co-chair), Warren MacDougall, Jenni Leslie, John Calhoun, Cindy Bourgeois, Marco Ste-Marie.

Your 2016 Council:

Front, left-right: Michiko Bown-Kai (co-chair) and David Cathcart.

Second row: Jen Carter-Morgan, Judy Amsbury, Chris Mann, Jordan Sullivan (General Council staff).

Back: Julie Graham (AUSE staff), Collin Smith (co-chair), Warren MacDougall, Jenni Leslie, John Calhoun, Cindy Bourgeois, Marco Ste-Marie.

We also appreciated our conversation with the Moderator of the United Church, Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell. And we welcomed our time with Jordan Sullivan, who is our staff connection in the General Council office.

We are thrilled to see that  Continue reading

Witnessing courage: Our Korean partner, Sumdol Hyanglin church

The United Church of Canada is unique to the Canadian context, but it holds a global identity through a wide range of church partners who share in common traditions or ministries. One of the United Church’s longest-running partnerships is with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, a relationship which moved closer to full communion at last summer’s General Council meeting.

This is a significant relationship for both churches; as United Church members accompany the PROK in its justice work, PROK members have been involved in the United Church’s own work on intercultural ministries and the intersections of racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Across and between both churches, there is an ongoing exchange of students, clergy, and ideas; in the fall of 2015, River Bend Presbytery, an Affirming ministry in Saskatoon, sent a delegation to Incheon Presbytery as part of a long-term commitment to deepening relationships with our partner church.

Rev. Laura Fouhse ministers at McClure United Church in Saskatoon, which became an Affirming ministry early this year. She writes, “In November of 2015 I travelled to South Korea with a group from my River Bend Presbytery in Saskatchewan in a continued effort to build a partnership with the Incheon Presbytery in the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (the PROK).

During our visit, we heard of a PROK congregation in Seoul that was welcoming of LGBT folks.  We learned that this congregation was under constant persecution from the wider church, and the secular community, so decided to take a trip into Seoul to visit and offer our support. Continue reading

LGBTI Human Rights Defenders at risk in South Korea

5th November 2015
by Suh Yeon Chang

Hello, My name is Suh Yeon Chang. I’m a human rights lawyer and LGBTI activist from South Korea. I want to thank you to have this opportunity to talk about the LGBTI human rights defenders’ situation in South Korea.

First of all, I’d like to tell you about LGBTI rights situation. This activism started over 20 years ago, and we have seen many institutional changes, incidents, and movements including the National Human Rights Commission Act in 2001, and the legal gender recognition of transgender people in the Supreme Court in 2006.

But backlash by anti-LGBTI Christian groups became stronger since 2007. In 2007, these groups pressured the Ministry of Justice to delete “sexual orientation” from the grounds of discrimination in the Anti-Discrimination Bill. To my surprise, the Ministry indeed deleted “sexual orientation” from the Bill. But finally it didn’t pass, because opposition groups were against the actual Bill itself. As consequence, there’s no Anti-Discrimination Act in Korea.

Since the failure to legislate the act in 2007, anti-LGBTI Christian groups became more and more aggressive. Continue reading

S’affirmer Ensemble se réjouit de la décision de l’Église Unie

Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble a accueilli avec enthousiasme la décision du Conseil général de l’Église Unie du Canada d’entamer une démarche de réparation envers les personnes des orientations sexuelles et de genre. Nous nous réjouissons à la perspective de travailler ensemble à la réalisation de cet engagement. Nous félicitons le Conseil général pour cet important pas en avant.

Collin Smith, président du Conseil AU/SE.

Texte de la résolution adoptée par le Conseil général
GCE 10 : Vivre les excuses, une démarche de réparation à l’égard des communautés LGBTTQ2 [Living apology to members of LGBTTQ2 communities]
[Traduction libre] Le 42e Conseil général (2015) :

  1. Décide d’amorcer une démarche de réparation [« Process of Living Apology »] vouée au dialogue, au témoignage, à la sensibilisation et à la réconciliation avec les personnes de toutes orientations sexuelles et identités de genre, qui comprennent, sans toutefois s’y limiter, les lesbiennes, les gais, les bisexuels, les transgenres, les bispirituels et les queers (LGBTT2Q).
  2. Demande à la secrétaire générale de collaborer avec Affirm United/S’affirmer ensemble à la réalisation d’une installation artistique, dont un exemple est présenté à l’Annexe A;
  3. Invite l’Église Unie du Canada à entamer avec les personnes LGBTT2Q un parcours de dialogue et de réconciliation de trois ans qui comprendra :

* des manifestations artistiques axées sur le dialogue, le culte et la sensibilisation;

* des occasions d’explorer des notions comme la lamentation, la réconciliation et la justice, qui feront l’objet d’un rapport et d’une célébration au 43e Conseil général (en 2018), lequel coïncidera avec le 30e anniversaire de la décision de 1988 sur la participation pleine et entière des personnes LGBTT2Q au sein de l’Église Unie.

Affirming Ministries in action: Welcoming refugees

Long before the suffering of millions of Syrian refugees finally reached the mainstream media, Canadian groups were sponsoring people seeking refuge from around the world. For decades, United Church congregations have been part of an innovative sponsorship option offered by the federal government and the national United Church; any local church can offer to support one or more refugees for at least one year, and in so doing opens the door to their coming to Canada.

The national United Church notes, “As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with the federal government, the United Church has been sponsoring Syrian refugees for resettlement in Canada since 2013. In 2015, 202 congregations across the church joined with other groups in their communities to support the resettlement of Syrian refugees. So far in 2015, United Church groups have sponsored 378 Syrian refugees; a further 50 refugees were expected be processed by Christmas. United Church groups throughout Canada have raised over $3 million to sponsor Syrian refugees this year alone.”

And these figures don’t include the sponsorship of refugees from other parts of the world. This is an enormous, long-term undertaking that echoes decades of earlier work. Welcoming refugees has long been central to our beliefs and collective life as faith communities.

Many of these sponsoring congregations are Affirming or in the process of voting on whether to become Affirming. Some have, over the years, sponsored refugees under a federal program that offers refuge to LGBT people facing threats to their lives. (This program has its limitations; for an irreverent summary of problems faced by some refugee claimants, check out a series of two articles from Xtra.) Other ministries, like MacDougall United in Edmonton, support LGBT refugees through the local Pride centre instead. Still others support initiatives like Rainbow Railroad and the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia.

For a more in-depth look at a sponsoring Affirming congregation, Metropolitan in Toronto, have a look at this short video. Recently CBC also featured a personal story from a Syrian woman sponsored by Affirming ministry Fairlawn Heights United in Toronto, and then added to the series once the family had safely arrived.

David Lander, an Affirm supporter and member of Castleton-Grafton pastoral charge in Ontario, says,  “I think the family that Castleton-Grafton United church sponsored a year and a half ago was particularly related to our becoming Affirming; our first planning meeting was just the week before our Affirming celebration service. I …think our focus on affirmation, and a fairly broad view of affirmation, made us more open to this endeavour.”

Rev. Jeff Doucette at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, an Affirming congregation in Dunbarton-FairportUCatPride- 2015Ontario, adds, “I love the fact we are deepening the meaning of Affirming (by talking about sponsorship). I think it gets to the heart of churches becoming a “safe space” for all people… but as important, that we as individuals of our community declare ourselves “safe spaces” by our words and actions. ”

To be a truly safe and inclusive space is at the heart of being Affirming; while our work begins with sexual and gender minorities, it does not end there, and the work to expand that safe space is always evolving.

Conversations on our Affirm United community Facebook group surfaced the following Affirming or in-process ministries who have sponsored or supported refugees in the past or are doing so now:

Oak Bay United and St Aidan’s United, Victoria BC; Kamloops United, BC; Nelson United, Nelson, BC; MacDougall and Southminster-Steinhauer in Edmonton, AB; McKillop in Lethbridge, AB; St Andrew’s River Heights, Winnipeg MB; First United, Ottawa; Castleton-Grafton pastoral charge, ON; Shining Waters Presbytery, ON; Bedford United, Dartmouth NS; and in Toronto: Jubilee, Eastminster, Trinity-St Paul’s, Bloor Street, Fairlawn Avenue, Metropolitan, and Bathurst.

We know this list doesn’t include everyone. If we missed you, drop us a line at communications@ause.ca and tell us about your experience. Did being Affirming help shape your decision to sponsor? If so, how?