Reflection: More than anything, the church needs to listen

Michiko Bown-Kai is a queer person of colour who currently lives in Toronto, Ontario (Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Anishinabek Territories).  They are a candidate for ministry within the United Church of Canada and are currently studying at Emmanuel College in the Masters of Divinity program.  They find joy in dancing, crafting, and blogging.  In August 2015, Michiko became Affirm United/ S’affirmer ensemble’s new co-chair. In Spring 2015 they were asked to contribute a story for the final print edition of Xtra! Toronto. The accompanying photo ran, but the story did not. Here is what Michiko wanted to say.

MichikoBown-KaiinlastprinteditionofXtra-TorontoA while ago, I was asked to appear in the final print issue of Xtra! (Toronto) where I was photographed and interviewed for an article they were writing about religious leadership in ‘the community’. I am disappointed with the focus that the accompanying article gave to particular issues such as gay marriage- not because this issue isn’t worthwhile or that gay marriage doesn’t address some real needs of community members – but because this story is that one that always gets told at the expense of all other stories. So, for those of you that want more than a picture of my face, you can read below:

I think there is still a large perception out there that you can’t be queer and/or trans if you are Christian. When I think about how there are some voices in Christianity which get a lot of air time that are overtly homophobic I can understand why. This homophobic narrative is often compounded by the silence or indifference that comes from Christians who claim to be queer and trans positive.

The thing is, when we actually look at the Bible it is full of stories of exile, persecution, finding hope in resistance to Empire, building community with the marginalized, prophetic gender benders. There are many places for a queer person to feel spiritually at home.

In today’s context, of doing ministry here in Toronto, I don’t see how we can honour Jesus’ legacy without being intentional about uplifting the experiences of queer and trans folks, especially those who are also poor, disabled, and people of colour.

Jesus’ ministry was based on healing and building community. It was also about fighting back to power. My experiences of queerness as dismantling harmful ideas and building resilient communities is an integral part to my Christian spirituality. My Christian experiences of lament, creative non-violence, and storytelling are integral to my queerness.

My ministry stems from the realization that oppression is an act of violence which has spiritual consequences. I believe the church has been called time and time again to ministry that specifically engages with homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny in our society, and that prophetic voices have been from beyond the confines of white supremacy and patriarchal standards. I believe that the church has a responsibility to intentionally engage in helping queer and trans people explore their feelings about religion, God, and spirituality in ways that feel safe. (The church) is a site of trauma for many people and they deserve to have the tools and space to heal from that.

In my interview I was asked what I wanted to say to members of LGBTQ communities and my answer was this: more than anything, the church needs to listen- with the intent to learn and be challenged. The Gospel is written on the hearts of so many queer and trans folk, so the church doesn’t need to speak: the church needs to be a witness so that from there we can engage in true solidarity.

Announcing our 2015 honourees:

Affirming Ministry and volunteers of the year awards

Every year, Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble is pleased to honour ministries and volunteers who have inspired us to new hope and energy over the past year and beyond. With gratitude we name the exceptional contributions of Trinity- St. Andrew’s United Church in Brighton, ON; of Brian Mitchell-Walker; and of Rev. Shaun Fryday.

Affirming Ministries Award, 2015: Trinity- St. Andrew’s United Church, Brighton ON.

Submitted by Judy Amsbury

In June 2012, Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in Brighton, ON became the firstTrinity-StAndrews Affirming Ministry in Hills and Shores Presbytery, Bay of Quinte Conference. They have hosted a Conference Affirming Ministry workshop and have mentored five more congregations as they successfully worked through their Affirming Ministries process, advising, encouraging, loaning resources, and meeting with Affirming committees.  Hills and Shores now has the highest percentage of Affirming ministries in Canada.  TSA has walked in the Belleville PRIDE Parade for the last 3 years and proudly marched with their banner at World Pride in Toronto in 2014.

Social Justice in Action
Situated in a large fruit-growing area on the shores of Lake Ontario which employs hundreds of temporary migrant workers, TSA has a much needed and unique outreach program, Friends with Migrant Workers Brighton whose mission is to build community with migrant workers through friendship and hospitality.

They offer a safe space for the workers to meet every second Sunday July through October, to socialize, enjoy a nutritious meal somewhere other than in their bunkhouse, and share stories and concerns. As one of their main links to the community, TSA provides information about community resources and activities. They also collect used clothing & sundries and help find affordable items such as suitcases, warm clothing, laptops, etc. The Quinte Community Health Centre provides extended hours on Thursdays, and workers are driven there if they need medical attention.

Notes of Hope
Members meet monthly to write “urgent action” letters regarding human rights abuses and other issues.

Trinity St Andrew’s Affirming process was a resoundingly successful model of thoughtful planning, effective listening, respectful and thorough communication, particularly in the initial stages when met with some quite vocal concerns.

Volunteer of the Year Award: Brian Mitchell-Walker

Former AU/SE president Annette Taylor writes,

“I am nominating Brian Mitchell-Walker for the Affirm United/S’affirmer ensemble BrianMitchell-WalkerVolunteer Award.  Brian has been involved in the work of AU/SE since the 1980’s, beginning with the Affirm Group in Toronto.  He was a part of the National Coordinating Committee, including the role of secretary in the mid 1990’s.  Brian was a very active member of the AU-SE Council from 2006 to 2012 and was an effective Co-Chair for three years.

Brian has also been involved in the Affirming Ministries program since the 1990’s.  He has taken the role of consultant, Affirming Ministries Coordinator, Co-Chair of the Affirming Ministries group and mentor to new Affirming Ministry Coordinators.

Brian also chaired the United Church of Canada’s National GLBTT Consultation, which involved planning 10 regional gatherings across the country in order to collect information about how homophobia and heterosexism are present in the church.   There were many recommendations from that consultation including the need for an apology.  As a result of this work a proposal is coming to General Council 42 called Living Apology to Members of the LGBTTQ Communities.

Brian has been the AU/SE webmaster for over 10 years, first as a volunteer and in recent years under contract to the AU-SE Council.  He now works closely with our new AU-SE Coordinator to ensure that the work of the AU-SE Council, and our Affirming Ministries is available to everyone.

Brian has been a relentless advocate for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities for many years and I believe he would be a very worthy recipient of the AU-SE Volunteer Award.”

Volunteer of the Year Award: Rev. Shaun E. Fryday

“It is with great pleasure, on behalf of the LGBTQ Youth Centre and the West Island ShaunFrydayRainbow Seniors Center in Beaconsfield, QC that we nominate Reverend Shaun Fryday for the Volunteer of the Year Award.

As the minister of Beaconsfield United, the Affirming congregation from which our centres emerged, Shaun’s steadfast commitment to the integrity of our programs and the intentional living-out of the congregation’s commitment to the LGBTQ community has been outstanding. In addition to providing the leadership and insight into the development of our centres, Shaun also volunteers his services of care, support, guidance, and spirituality that arise from those we serve. It is for this part of Shaun’s dedication and commitment to the LGBTQ community, that drives the nomination for the 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Affirm committee.

Shaun models inclusion through his attentive care, but also through his advocacy. Whether as a participant on a monthly radio talk show, through print media or speaking engagements, Shaun paves the way for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in association with the church wherever he goes. On two separate occasions Shaun has spoken on LGBTQ issues at International Human Rights conferences at his own expense. More importantly, to those of us whom he is representing and returning to after these endeavours, he is an example of how to live inclusion. Shaun responds to any need of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two- spirited, queer and questioning youth, adults and seniors, and this dedication has made a significant difference and transformed lives. He further volunteers his time contributing his quiet presence in the background, offering encouragement and support to volunteers, board members, and program participants alike.

With Shaun’s energy and commitment, LGBTQ inclusion in church and society at Beaconsfield United and as lived through the Youth, Adult and Seniors centres involves: Gay Prom; Summer and Winter Camp; biweekly BBQ’s and dinners; parent’s group, regular drop- in schedule; gay-straight alliance development in high schools; concerts in the park; workshops on overcoming homophobia and so much more. Shaun’s dynamism and commitment to inclusion both in society and at Beaconsfield United, as lived through the community, is the knowledge that our centres and the church are a place of welcome for all people, and is widely celebrated within Montreal’s West Island Community. Shaun truly welcomes everyone into the church and centres with the same equal measure of hospitality, care, and responsibility. Shaun’s door is always open, his embrace always welcoming and his voice always heard holding up the marginalized.

We are honoured to be part of the vision of Affirming that Shaun has implemented, and we whole-heartedly nominate him for the Volunteer of the Year Award.”

StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom

As spring emerges and the end of the 2015 school year approaches, the sight of smiling teens emerging from limousines dressed to the nines with corsages and carefully coiffed hair becomes commonplace. As teenagers, we are taught that our high school prom is meant to be the pinnacle of our high school experience, a celebration of all the hard work and growing that we have done. However, this is not the case for everyone—being anywhere under the LGBTQ umbrella can make prom an extremely stressful and even sad time. Many Queer teens feel awkward expressing themselves at prom, be it by bringing a same-sex partner, wanting to wear a tux when others expect them to wear a dress, or having a whole room of straight peers stare when they dance with your date. Many are flat out not allowed,

With this in mind, the West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre recently hosted its second annual Queer Prom, at the request of the Centre’s youth. Founded in 2011 at Beaconsfield United Church, as an initiative of the Rev. Shaun Fryday, the Centre has thrived as a drop-in space for any young person 14-21 who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer or Questioning on the West Island of Montreal. Beginning with a trickle of regular members, the centre served over 1000 youth last year with its fun hang-out space and diverse series of workshops and activities.

Last year, the Centre’s volunteers realized there was truly a need for a celebratory queer dance party, as many of the youth frequenting the centre felt uncomfortable at their own proms– a sentiment echoed by the drop-in volunteers, who are all in their twenties. We decided to throw a prom with all the trappings of a high school prom, including a photo booth, wonderful DJ and punch! The first event was such a success that the youth decided it should be an annual event, and our second one was held on May 8th.

The first year was a classic Rainbow theme, but for the sophomore event, the youth voted to have their dance “under the stars”. They worked diligently cutting out hundreds of silver stars, which were strWestIslandStargayzerspromung and suspended from the ceiling where they reflected the space-y laser lights projected by our talented resident DJ Adam. To keep the prom accessible we only charged 20 dollars a ticket, kept costs low, and were generously helped by many community partners. Guests arrived in all their glittery finery, greeted by a lovely buffet, punch, and heavily decorated church hall. One of the special aspects of our prom was a retro paper moon photo booth, where guests could have their photos taken by a talented photographer, and have a portrait with the illusion of sitting on the moon!

It was heartening to see nearly 100 LGBTQ youth dancing freely together and feeling as though they could be themselves—there were several slow dances, and it was truly a joy to see so many Queer couples dancing together. Plans are already underway for a third event next year, which is sure to be the best yet!

— Gabrielle Poitras, LGBTQ Youth Centre Board Member (edited)

 

Harcourt Memorial UC LGBTQA+ Committee update

We at Harcourt Memorial United Church enjoyed an active spring season and pride week recently. Two members sat on the Guelph Pride Week Committee throughout the year to assist with supporting this city-wide activity that saw hundreds of people attend the myriad of events throughout the week of May 3-10.

Harcourt’s Committee planned the 2nd Annual Storytelling Series  “Speaking Our Truths”. Thirteen speakers from a wide spectrum of identities shared ten minutes of their story, including three transgender individuals and one individual married to a transgender person.  It was incredibly informative in helping us understand perspectives and experiences different than our own. There was laughter and tears and everything in between over 80 people listened intently to the stories.

On Sunday May 10th, we celebrated our Harcourt Affirming Service, which for the first time, was formally part of the Guelph Pride Week. Rev. Wendy Brown shared an inspiring and affirming message, the Waterloo Wellington Rainbow Chorus sang with the Harcourt Choir, and Pride Cake was enjoyed after the ceremony. It was a fitting finish to a week of Pride Activities.

Discussion and planning are in the works to combine Harcourt’s LGBTQA+ Committee with that of the Social Justice and Outreach Committee to spread the work and support between a greater number of members of Harcourt and expand our inclusive model to include the broader community.

— Julie Glass-Ashley, Chair of Harcourt LGBTQA+ Committee

Calgary Human RITES Conference a success

HumanRITESConference2015programOur May 2015 Human Rites conference highlighted and celebrated the progress made and conversations being had by various leaders who are using their voices to create positive and inclusive change. And it honoured the fact that active exclusion of LGBTQ people is still being experienced daily.

With over sixty registrants, and eighty to a hundred additional people attending each of our public evening events, this was the biggest and most successful faith LGBTQ conference that Alberta has seen. The conference was founded by five Affirming United Churches in Calgary (Hillhurst, Scarboro, Wild Rose, Deer Park, St. Thomas), and sponsored by many other multi-faith and community organizations.

InterfaithChantalGreyEyesMay2015

Chantal Grey Eyes May 2015

Our program featured:
Keynote speaker Matthew Vines, best-selling author of the paradigm-shifting book “God and the Gay Christian”;
A special appearance and workshops by Ivan Coyote – award winning Canadian poet, author, and performer;
Team Canada Olympic Luger John Fennell;
A full day of multi-faith workshops including: “Deconstructing Neo-Conservative Muslim Arguments on Same Sex Unions”, “The Road to Inclusiveness”, “Let’s Start the Conversation; Evangelicals and the LGBTQ Community”, “What does it mean to be affirming?”, a multi-faith panel, and a beautiful interfaith service on Sunday morning.

With people from very different faith backgrounds and in very different places in acceptance of themselves and others, the dialogue started was so encouraging, although much sadness still lingers in the lives of those who have been excluded. Our hope is to continue this as an annual event, gaining even more partners and supporters along the way. We look forward to next year and invite you to attend!
Pam Rocker, conference co-organizer.

Emmanuel UC, Waterloo, ON: Beyond our building

What we do and say outside our buildings is crucial. Over a month after adding a rainbow flag to the front of their church, Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo, Ontario, received the following email:

“Today on my way to work I noticed your flag “All Welcome”. Not sure if it had always been there, but today it certainly caught my eye.EmmanuelUnited-WaterlooON

The message touched my heart.

The rainbow spoke volumes. I suppose I have always had a soft spot for differences and when I saw your flag today, I was touched at the open arms of your parish to all and wanted to tell you that I am so glad that you exist. In my own faith journey I witnessed intolerance, judgment, and self-righteousness, thankfully not towards myself, but it may as well have been because we are all children of God and I took that judgment of others very personally.

When I see intolerance, I speak out and when I see others open their hearts, I want to say thank you because it is this way that we can change the world from a world of anger and hatred to a world of peace and love.

Thank you for “welcoming all” and for flying your flag high to remind all who see it to do the same and to treat each other with love and kindness. I don’t have to drive by your church on my way to work, but now that I’ve seen your flag, I will go this way every day, it is worth going a little bit out of my way to see such a symbol of love and to start my day with this message!”

Thanks to Rev. Dr. Bruce Sweet for sharing this email with us.
Photographer: Arthur Hills

The Power of Disclosure

By Jonathan Brower

In 1950, Jim MacGregor was a youth attending Zion-Memorial United Church in Smith Falls, Ontario. Wide-eyed, optimistic and ever aware of a difference in his understanding of sexuality, Jim sought a word to describe how he felt and stumbled upon a negative one: “sissy”.  In a community where Biblical literalism was preached on Sunday, but during the week piety seemed an afterthought, that word and the feelings associated with it were not something to be discussed.

Jim-2

Jim left Zion to attend University in1959 and did not attend church for the next 35 years. Continue reading

Reflecting on the Multi-Faith Transgender Conference

By Ruth Bramham,

RandiKleinAndRuthBramham

At the end of October 2014, Affirm Council member Ruth Bramhan attended a multi-faith transgender conference at the Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Below are her reflections on the weekend:

On Thursday afternoon, October 30th, we all gathered for the opening reception and welcome. For some of us it was like old home week, meeting Continue reading

Un espace sûr dans une église pour les jeunes gais et lesbiennes

Le pasteur de l’Église Unie de Beaconsfield, Shaun Fryday, a ouvert un Centre jeunesse LGBTQ dans le sous-sol du lieu, car les ressources sont concentrées dans le centre-ville de Montréal. Pour lui, la solidarité avec les jeunes LGBT doit dépasser les simples mots de bienvenue.

« Nous, on n’a pas eu de fun à notre bal de finissants, parce qu’on n’aurait pas pu danser avec notre blonde ou notre chum sans que tout le monde nous regarde. » Dans cette seule phrase, Gabrielle Poitras, bénévole et membre du conseil d’administration du Centre jeunesse LGBTQ1 de l’Ouest-de-l’Île, exprime les difficultés auxquelles font encore face de nos jours plusieurs jeunes des minorités sexuelles. C’est pourquoi le Centre jeunesse organise cette année, pour une première fois qui ne sera pas la dernière, espère le Centre, un bal des finissants pour ces jeunes. Des affiches ont été posées dans les écoles de la région, une vidéo est diffusée sur Facebook et un article sera publié sur cette activité dans le West Island Chronicle.
Le Centre jeunesse LGBTQ loge dans le sous-sol de l’Église Unie de Beaconsfield. Il a été fondé par le pasteur de cette paroisse, Shaun Fryday. Certaines paroisses de l’Église Unie se déclarent officiellement inclusives, c’est-à-dire accueillantes pour les personnes d’orientations et identités sexuelles diverses. Mais le pasteur Fryday souhaitait que cet accueil se concrétise par un projet qui aille au-delà d’une simple déclaration de bienvenue. C’est ainsi que le Centre jeunesse LGBTQ de l’Ouest-de-l’Île a vu le jour en mai 2011. Il fête ce mois-ci ses trois ans, et le bal des finissants sera l’occasion de célébrer aussi cet anniversaire. Continue reading

United Church of Canada Celebrates World Pride

World Pride comes to Toronto this summer, and the United Church is participating.  Our Moderator the Rt. Rev. Gary Paterson will preach at a special United Church Pride Service at St. Andrew’s United Church on June 22nd and at Metropolitan United Church on June 21st and 29th, and will participate in the Pride Parade on June 29th.  The United Church will host interfaith events, a human rights conference and a United Church float.  Affirm United will host a display at the Streetfair; you are invited to sign up to staff the display in 2-hour shifts.  Visit the United Church World Pride webpage www.uccworldpride.com for information and to get involved!