Affirming Stories

Meg’s Story

As an ‘out’ member of the LGBT2S community I have experienced painful social marginalization from the moment that I began to understand myself as “different”. Despite the open and accepting nature of the United Church of Canada, Canadian society and other Christian churches have not been so kind.  And so I spent many years “in the closet”, my heart and spirit continually battered by hateful, soul bashing signs and homophobic comments and comic strips, cruel FB posts, email rants, and mean jokes.  People didn’t know that they were talking about me so I guess they figured it was ok.

Then a few years ago, I decided that, fearful as I was to “come out”, it was equally painful to live in the closet. Coming out was and is a constant state of vulnerability.  I simply do not ever know how people will respond. Many churches are better known for judgement of LGBT2S+ than for living an open and unconditionally loving welcome.

I long for the day when all of this is no more than a distant memory of the past.  But with the recent elections in the United States, we in Canada have also seen the re-emergence of an uncensored and violent face of prejudice and bigotry. There is no more important time than now for Knox to make a public statement that declares Knox to be safe, affirming space for people from all God’s varied creation.

Becoming an “affirming church” simply means that the congregation “comes out” to the Kenora community as a people walking the talk of unconditional love. It is time to start naming who we are and how we believe.

I want people to know that we are all beloved of God and that there is ‘safe space’ for us all within the walls of Knox.

That is my dream.

Tom’s Story

When I was asked by the leadership team to join the Affirm committee I was like many of you. Why is this needed? As a new couple to Kenora, Jean Anne and I were welcomed into Knox like a second home. However, when I learned more about what Affirm means. I realized that there was more for all of us to do on our Journey of Inclusion.

When I understood, the message touched a very personal time in my life. You see I had my own time of “coming out” where my whole world was turned upside down. My story is not one I could tell anyone for a very long time. For a long time I felt very alone, different, isolated, unloved, lied to and someone who did not belong in this world. You see when I was 9 years old I discovered in a very publicized way that I was adopted, that my parents were not my real parents, that all my friends now knew and some of them made fun of me for being this different kid.

Fortunately my adoptive parents “loved me through this emotional period”. My Sunday school lessons took on more meaning and with my faith that God cared about me, even if everyone else was laughing at me, I was able to find an inner strength to overcome my shame and feelings of worthlessness.

I have never looked at anyone the same way again since. Everyone belongs in this world as is God’s plan and if in any way I can make someone who may be feeling lost, different or somehow not part God’s plan to feel strong and realize that they matter in the world, then I want to be there for them.

William Somerset Maugham said something in a book I studied in school that has stayed with me all my life. Paraphrasing “Every experience is a different coloured thread making a beautiful quilt that is our life.” I hope my Children like my quilt when it is finished.

We as a congregation have an opportunity to demonstrate in more than words within the confines of our homes and church that we are inclusive in all our relationships. The LGBT group has perhaps suffered in silence with the pain of feeling that they are unworthy more than many other groups and joining together in the process of Affirm is a great first step in the “Welcome to All “ message we declare in our mission statement.

Jean Anne’s Story

My story is also about joining the Affirm Committee because of my past but unlike Tom’s mine is related to my professional passion as a teacher- a teacher of students with special needs.

What’s the connection you may ask yourself?

Well it’s about change and relationships that affect change.

When I was in Manitoba the education system thought we could just say we include all children in schools but quickly found that without explicit labels there was always one group that people were quick to exclude. So we found we needed to provide a mission statement of our inclusion belief and to go along with it policies of actual practice to back it up!

Why? — well the majority of people were on board but as we all know fear of the unknown can result in phobias. Parents of children with Special needs and those parents of children without special needs and their teachers were concerned with how including “these children” would affect their children’s environment and learning. To make a long history short… it worked and now 25+ years later we can say we are inclusive of all children without stressing the disability like before.

But WAIT… in Manitoba just 2 years ago there was an elementary school who would not let an identified transgender youth use the washroom of their changed gender identity. Parents of the “regular” children and parents of the youth who was being discriminated against and teachers all had an opinion and why theirs was the right one. We thought the mission statement was implicit we include all children so why did this not result in a quick resolution. Because it was not explicit…. We need until it is accepted (which only took 25 years) to be explicit until there are no labels and the understanding and relationships are built. So a policy was written to address the label and we find that change is an evolving journey for schools, and as I see it-for churches and for communities when we are in transition phases.

As we see the LGBT2S youth as people who need recognition and accommodation by building relationships with them- solutions and more importantly no labeling will be the norm. Until then we need the signage to remind us we have a policy of acceptance and explicitly to whom that policy is for.

Thelma’s Story

Why am I on the Affirming Committee?

Coming from an evangelical background, I knew the doctrine of that faith community. However, I was not aware of anyone being ‘different’ until one day a young man named Wayne, “came out”.

Wayne had always been active within this Pentecostal congregation. He had been baptized by emersion and took part in the church praise and worship group leading the congregation into the worship service. Once he had announced that he had come out, he was given an ultimatum: Renounce his life as a gay man, or leave!

Result: he left along with all his family. The hurt and pain was enormous for Wayne and his family, and was also felt by some members of the congregation. I was amongst those who left that church because of the marginalization of Wayne, but did not quite understand why.

Now I do know why – we are all God’s children and we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. We must love unconditionally with total inclusiveness.

This morning we sang these words – “God, help us to treasure these moments of mysterry; to hallow the Sacred in all that we do. Throughout ev’ry season may we be your agents of love, joy, and blessing as hearts are renewed.”

We can live out these words by becoming an Affirming ministry and visibly let the LGBT community that they are loved for who they are. They are not alone.

Sarah’s Story

I don’t tell many people that I go to church, it’s not something that I typically share with my friends. Mainly because there are a lot of assumptions out there about what that means, negative associations with what that must mean I believe when it comes to issues of inclusion. The affirming process is an opportunity for Knox to loudly and proudly show who we are, who we are as a diverse congregation. To demonstrate overtly and intentionally that should you choose to attend, you will be welcomed and respected. It’s an opportunity to stand together and tell others that messages of hate and exclusion will not be tolerated here.

When in response to the affirming process, we make statements like – “we already do that…this isn’t necessary” we are, in my mind, really showing our privilege. We know that this is a safe space for all but what about those looking in from the outside wondering if this is a place for them? Messages of hate are targeted and specific, in order to be louder and more powerful our messages of love and belonging must also be very specific and clear.

Doug’s Story

You know, it’s a wonderful thing to find where you belong.

I met God again, for the first real time in my mid thirties. Church became very important but I wandered for years, trying to find that place where me and my faith journey ‘fit’. Every church I wandered into welcomed me. Yet every church did not feel right. And every time I changed churches I would be hugely stressed out with anxiety and fear….fear that I would be rejected, that I wouldn’t really belong. And really, I didn’t have anything to worry about… I was a white male, straight, Christian, married with kids, had a job and was able to drop something into the collection plate every Sunday.

While I was on the margins of the church community, I was definitely not one of those who society has marginalized. Then one day I literally wandered into Knox. By whim really. I knew my sister belonged here and a few close friends had attended and liked it a lot. All I really knew about the United Church was that it was one of the mainstream churches and I had come to associate mainstream with inflexible, exclusive and institutional. To be honest I’d not have chosen Knox just by looking at it.

The service I attended that morning was a Eucharist (my favorite) and I sat… there… beside my sister. And from the moment I walked in and sat down, I couldn’t speak. Literally. And when Cheryl read the invitation to Communion, I couldn’t see for tears in my eyes. I felt I was home. I felt safe. I felt at peace. And I was filled with a joy that I still just cannot describe.

Knox- YOU- opened your doors and welcomed in a wandering soul and the joy I felt that first time I walked in is what I want everyone who walks in the doors for the first time to feel.

I have been on the outside looking in and I took a chance and came in. I want the folk that are searching KNOW that they don’t have to take a chance. I want them to KNOW that the doors they walk through will lead to a place that is safe, accepting and loving. Regardless of who they are or where they happen to be on their faith journey. A place they can be, become and belong. In a nutshell that’s my story about coming to Knox and that’s my reason for being on this committee.

So. Sometime in the not too distant future we will ask you a question. And it will have to do with Knox becoming an affirming church. A welcoming church. An inclusive church.

Regardless of how it is worded the question will basically be this: “Are YOU willing to be/become an affirming member of Knox.?’

If enough of you say no, then what do we need to do to change that?

And if enough of You say “yes” then Knox can be called an affirming church. Officially that is. We will have started on the faith journey that will include and welcome all that want to travel with us. Thank you for opening your hearts enough to be a caring and loving community. Thank you for opening your hearts enough to be here this morning and to listen.

I love being a part of you and I’m so proud to call Knox my church.

Copyright © 2013 Knox United Church, Kenora. All rights reserved.

“May the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the holy spirit be with you all”
2 Corinthians 13-14