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?

Seeking new Affirming Ministry Coordinators

If God’s love for all is the soul of all we do, then Affirming ministries are the heart. Over one hundred and thirty United Church of Canada ministries of all kinds make up the Affirming movement; these ministries have made a public declaration of support and inclusion  for and with sexual and gender minorities in the church, in their communities, and around the world.  (If you want to know more about being Affirming, see this excellent short video  from Hillhurst United Church, and our website’s Affirming Ministries section.)

In addition, ninety or so ministries  are in the process of becoming Affirming, a journey of discernment and action that takes at least a year. Ninety ministries—that adds up to a lot of good work, and we’d love to see that number grow.


(Anne Hebb, left, presents Maritime Conference with its Affirming certificate this October.)

The volunteers who accompany ministries in the Affirming process are currently Linda Hutchinson (East) and Brian Mitchell-Walker (West). Recently, East Coast coordinator Anne Hebb took a much needed retirement from her role. Linda and Brian are skilled, compassionate, and very dedicated people who accompany ministries all the way through the process. And we’d love for them to have more help. Here’s a job description of the vital work they do.

If you or someone you know feels called to help Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble continue to expand the Affirming family by accompanying ministries in the process or considering the process, please get in touch with us at affirmunited@affirmunited.ca
We would love to talk further!

New resources to help your work

Don’t be shy– these resources are designed to help your work, whether you’re considering beginning the Affirming process or have been an Affirming ministry for decades.

Becoming Affirming flyer
One of the most common questions asked of Affirm is:
Our congregation is already inclusive. Why should we become Affirming? 
Have a look at our latest handout (PDF), which is designed to address this and other common questions. Photocopy it freely; use it at events or as a bulletin insert, or wherever people need help addressing this crucial question.  Limited colour copies are available, and budget permitting, we may print more. If your Conference or Presbytery is interested in a large scale mailing, we can send you the files for printing.

Stand up display
AU/SE now has a lightweight, retractable, six-foot stand up display to complement the local displays many ministries have created. (Image at left. Please note that this one can’t be carried in a parade!) The current version is English only, but a bilingual one will be available by December. Priority will be given to ministries that are celebrating becoming Affirming, but between staff and volunteers Judy Amsbury and Lynn Miller, we’ll do our best to keep the display in circulation. We ask that ministries contribute to the cost of moving it around the country. If you want to request the display, please fill out a contact form for our Marketing Coordinator. 

Annual report
Every year, Affirm United/S’affirmer ensemble releases an annual report for the previous year. If you want to know more about the many supporters, actions and activities that make up our movement, take a look at our 2014 annual report. And if our 2014 budget figures inspire you to donate, so much the better! The link will take you to a large PDF file that will take a minute to download.

New support for transgender members of the UC’s Benefits Plan

Good news! Trans* members of the United Church’s benefits plan have new benefits and rights.

In 2009, the United Church created a Trans and Gender Diversity Task Group (2009-2011). Their final report  in early 2012 asked the church to “research the cost of providing extended physical and mental health coverage for persons in gender transition who are employed by the United Church of Canada, and to make the coverage available.”

After a lot of work by many current and former staff, the Executive of the General Council approved the recommendation from the Permanent Committee on Ministry and Employment Policies and Services to extend some financial support for benefit plan members who are transgender and are transitioning. Working in combination with provincial health care, the financial support will be administered via Green Shield.

Plan members who want more information are encouraged to e-mail:
MinistryandEmployment@united-church.ca  The Ministry and Employment staff would appreciate hearing back about things they can improve on, and what things are well done. They want to ensure the best experience possible for Plan members and their dependents. So please help them out!

Safe, strong, and Affirming: Artemis Housing Co-op, Winnipeg

Young United Church is an Affirming ministry in Winnipeg that carries the Affirming message into unique community and ecumenical partnerships.  It shares Crossways in Common with Hope Mennonite Church, and both share in Artemis Housing Co-op Inc, an associated ministry  in the Crossway’s shared building.

Artemis’  “collective purpose is to continue to meet the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the West Broadway Community. We partner with Young United Church, Hope Mennonite Church, Day Nursery, West Broadway Youth, and West Broadway Community Ministry.

At Artemis we provide apartments to people with HIV+/AIDS and their families; cancer; and other medical struggles. We have a clean, safe, comfortable environment and we can all use the spiritual sharing of the two churches: Hope Mennonite and Young United as well as the programs of West Broadway Community Ministry. Artemis is grateful to have a strong, safe and comfortable place to call home.”

Former board chair Michael Kurek explains, “The majority of the residents at Artemis are gay. At the Young United service on Sunday morning, there are usually five residents that attend, most of them taking responsibility for certain details like setting up the “table” with candle and book, taking up the collection, greeting, and more. After the service at Young, we have a light lunch of sandwiches and cupcakes to which even more residents come down as part of our extended community. When our board president says that Crossways is a “safe and comfortable” place, he’s also referring to spiritual milieu created by Young United and West Broadway Community Ministry as Affirming places.”

Being Affirming is a diverse expression of safety, affirmation, and love. Thank you to Artemis, Young United, and Crossways in Common for being a living reminder of that.