‘There is a time that we must rise . . . we must stand’ (More Voices, #165)

By Linda Buchanan

Collage of Westminster United Church’s Affirming celebration.

On Sunday, June 19, Westminster United Church in The Pas, MB became a publicly Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Canada. As a community of faith, we did the work of learning what it takes to be an inclusive congregation. We did the study, self-reflection; we explored our mission and ministry and discerned the nudge of the Holy Spirit to rise and take that stand.

In 1988, General Council 32 declared that all people ‘regardless of sexual orientation are welcome as full members of the United Church, and all members are eligible to be considered for ordered ministry. It also affirms that God’s intention for all human relationships (both heterosexual and homosexual couples) is that they be faithful, responsible, just, loving, health-giving, healing, and sustaining of community and self.’

We started the service by lighting the candles of the rainbow. Adrianna Sawchyn represented parents and grandparents who have experienced judgment and censure by the church and who are grateful that their loved ones can have a Christian spiritual haven should they so wish. We linked the covenant of God to Noah that never again would there be one group of people chosen over another as was seen in that first judgment story.

Rev Steve then took on the hard task of explaining how texts that are often used against peoples of differing sexual expression are also balanced in the words of Christ and in God’s commandment that we love another. It was never said that O will only love these folk and not the rest. The challenge of inclusion is that it means everyone! We felt for Steve’s arduous journey of acceptance as he kept singing the refrain, “He loves me too, he loves me too, I know he loves me too; because he loves the little things, I know he loves me too.” When he felt the sting of rejection and name-calling because he knew from a young age he was different from his peers, he would hold those words in his heart, knowing God loved him and held him close even when many others who declared themselves Christians, would not.

Two people standing in front of a cross and a rainbow candle. One is holding a certificate up. Both are smiling.

Pastoral Charge Supervisor, Rev. Scott MacAuley and Council Chair, Dennis Cain.

We were honoured to the co-chairs of the Tri-Community Pride Committee, Erin Boscow and Derrick Sanderson, attend our service. Derrick spoke to us about what it was like to not fit into the ‘traditional’ gender identities and of how hurtful people could be in their righteousness. We felt humbled at listening his journey just to be accepted for who he is.  The congregation was so moved to her his heartfelt story.  We were so blessed by his courage to stand before us and expose the hypocrisy of those who have learned the commandment of love but often do anything but. It was not a message aimed at us in the personal sense but in the institutional sense which made what we were doing today that much more important.

Scott then presented Dennis with the Certificate of Recognition that Westminster United can publicly declare its mission of inclusion. We are the most northerly church in our Region to have the public designation – and 1 of 200 throughout the United Church. Scot read the letters of congratulation from the Moderator of the national church, the Right Rev. Richard Bott and from the Region Council’s Pastoral Relations Minister, Rev. Judy Hare. It was then time to come to the table of communion where all people are welcomed. Rev. Bott had reminded us that ‘almost 500 years ago, a sister in faith, St. Theresa of Avila, wrote, “Christ has no body but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world . . .’

Thank you, Scott, Steve, Derrick and Erin, for joining us at our special service. May we be the compassionate church you called us out to be. Although we have been affirming for a long time in terms of our marriage policy, for example, we have now come out of the closet and are letting our colours fly for all to see. Ekosi. Amen.