So many GREAT workshops and opportunities for engagement, it was hard to choose.
Iridesce, the Living Apology was the first one I chose, Aaron Miechkota led the workshop. She is the project coordinator for Iridesce. The most powerful part for me was reading some of the stories from the Iridesce website, check them out! Some of them are anonymous, some have the person’s name attached. Earlier, in a plenary presentation, Aaron had shared part of a letter written to a gay minister, which included the words, ”I hope you get AIDS” and was signed, ”Yours in Christ.” Thirty years later, it’s difficult to imagine. Church wasn’t part of my life back in 1988, and I have had gay and lesbian friends from my teen years, so I don’t have personal memory of that time in the church. The stories brought it to life.
Having a love of art and worship, I chose that workshop as well. Although when I arrived in the room and found out it was to be a COLLABORATIVE project, my introverted self was internally resistant. How on earth can you collaborate with others when you don’t even know them! As usual, God is at work in my resistance. We were randomly put together and my teammate and I shared one of my favourite Biblical passages, But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) and also shared how I had photographed a number of heart shapes found in nature. My partner started scrolling though her phone and while for a moment I thought I must be boring her to tears, she turned the phone to me and showed me pictures of quilts she made with hearts as their central theme. Of course, then we had to make something with hearts! Talk about a sacred connection.
Here are the rest of the projects; they were on display during Sunday worship.
The third workshop was on Starting the Affirming Journey, where Linda Hutchison (unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of her) gave an overview of the steps a congregation takes when they begin to explore becoming an Affirming ministry. Lots of good conversation around that and how at the beginning of Affirm United, the focus was on gay and lesbian acceptance, non-binary, transgender etc. wasn’t on the radar at all.
One of the things that arose a couple of times over the event was that some lay people didn’t understand why the welcome and inclusivity that the United Church, as a national body proclaims, isn’t lived out in all congregations. I can understand their confusion and sorrow when they have not found acceptance in a UCC church because of their orientation or gender identity. There was some conversation about a symbol to illustrate that on church signs etc. If/when a church has the discussion/discernment a community of faith decides that they are not going to welcome the LGBTQ+ community, then the public has a right to know that. In the same way that a rainbow illustrates acceptance and safety, some sort of symbol could indicate otherwise. As a white, cisgendered female, I have not experience much marginalization in the church, but I have never experienced an overt lack of welcome or worse. As I serve two congregations, one which supports same gender marriage and one who doesn’t, I wonder how they can be explicit about their welcome or lack of welcome to those who do not conform to gender roles and expectations.
Saturday evening we were given an opportunity to participate in pop-up event at Dundas Square. An act of witness in the public. I was hot… and extraverted out… and felt a bit uncomfortable at the thought of this event. I pondered my discomfort… What was I afraid of? Was I afraid? Religion in the public sphere? Would be make fun of us? Throw things at us? 😉 Since I know that discomfort is usually an opportunity for learning something, and I have committed to experiencing all that being the president had to offer, I headed down, found the group gathering at Metropolitan United Church and we were asked who wanted to help hold the rainbow. I offered, you can see me slightly to the right of the middle as we stood in Dundas Square, Robyb Brown-Hewitt is on the far left. We sang a rap version of Jesus Loves Me and the chorus of “We Are a Rainbow,” a beautiful hymn by Rev. David Kai, you can check out his music here.
Of course nobody threw anything at us or yelled at us… in true Toronto fashion, we were mostly ignored! 😉 Although we got a few ‘thumbs up,’ lots of people taking pictures and a few questions, I am left pondering how to do more of this public witness.
I am sure more reflections will arise at the days. I am grateful for Maritime Conference for giving me the opportunity to attend and participate. I met people I only know through social media and made new friends as we interacted during workshops and over meals. Many thanks to Royal York Road United Church for hosting!
That’s my window on God’s world.