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Here's the latest news from Affirm United/ S'affirmer Ensemble.
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Welcome back to Affirm United/ S'affirmerEnsemble's national newsletter, Consensus. In this first edition of 2016:

Greetings from our co-chairs
News: Annual Conference; new website forms; membership renewal reminder
Second call: We’re looking for new Affirming Ministry Coordinators

Being who you need to be: Rev. Cindy Bourgeois feature story
We’re a global movement: LGBT perspectives from Colombian and Korean partner churches

Third time the charm? Federal trans* rights bill tries again
Reminder: New resources
New Affirming ministries
Affirming Ministries in action- On the air
Feature: Affirming ministries in action- Welcoming refugees

 
New Year’s greetings from co-chairs Michiko Bown-Kai and Collin Smith!
 
2016 presents a number of exciting opportunities for Affirm United / S’affirmer Ensemble, and we hope you’ll join us in furthering this exciting work. Highlights already underway include:
  • Partnering with the United Church of Canada on developing their process of apology to members of the LGBTQ community.
  • Connecting with "Affirming" ministries in our new sister church the United Church of Christ in the U.S.,
  • Working towards our annual conference in Ottawa this summer,
  • And continuing to expand and connect Affirming ministries across the country. 
We are thrilled to see the number of Affirming ministries in Canada continue to grow so rapidly, and look forward to all that 2016 holds in store.  We thank all our many supporters for your prayers, your memberships, your donations, and your solidarity with the work of full and deep inclusion of all gender and sexual minorities.  Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with your ideas and needs.
 
In our news…
Annual conference
Advance notice again, because you do not want to miss this: Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble will hold its annual conference on July 22-24 at Glebe-St James United Church in Ottawa. This is an accessible space. Please note that this is the weekend before the August long weekend. Registration and them information will be out in the next couple of months. 
 
New forms! Yes, it’s exciting. Affirm United/ S’affirmer ensemble is held up by a lot of behind-the-scenes work. This month we want to highlight our brand new forms; when you donate, buy resources, or sign up for the newsletter, you use website forms that are much more complex on the inside than the out. Brian Mitchell-Walker is our web weaver, and along with a few helpers, he has installed both new and improved forms and the ability to pay for just about anything through PayPal. Feel free to test the forms out by getting in touch…. or donating. 
 
Membership reminder: Affirm relies on paid memberships; personal and institutional memberships, as well as donations, fund our entire volunteer-based movement.  In December, membership coordinator John Calhoun sent out reminders to groups and individuals whose membership lapsed in 2015. We would love to have you back—and we’d love to have more new members!
 
Your membership contribution is used for education, action, and support; it also helps to cover the ongoing costs of the organization, such as our annual national gathering and support for ministries in the process of becoming Affirming. It’s also a very important expression of support and solidarity.
 
You can renew your membership on our website, and pay by credit card or cheque. And remember—if you are a monthly donor through PAR, your membership is automatically included.
 
Second call: Seeking Affirming ministry coordinators
 
Right now, 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. 
 
The volunteers who accompany ministries in the Affirming process are currently Linda Hutchinson (East) and Brian Mitchell-Walker (West). 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. 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. We would love to talk further, and we’ll support you fully in this important role. Contact us through communications@ause.ca  

Being who you need to be: Rev. Cindy Bourgeois feature story
 
Rev. Cindy Bourgeois is our newest Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble Council member, and she and Wesley United Church in Regina were featured recently in a major story in the Regina Leader-Post.
 
Cindy is the first known, or openly transgender, person ordained by the United Church of Canada. Her transition from a business owner in eastern Canada to ordained ministry in Saskatchewan was brought about through faith and the need to be who she knew she was. Please have a look at this story, its lovely photos, and the video interview with Cindy. Our congratulations and thanks to Cindy and to Wesley United for telling your stories. 

We’re a global movement: LGBT perspectives from Colombian and Korean partner churches
 
Many thanks to United Church national staff Jim Hodgson for bringing us one part of the LGBTQI+ experience in Colombia, a nation which has endured decades of violence. The story details an incident of violent humiliation against gay and trans people. 
 
Part two looks at the LGBT-positive work of partner churches in Colombia and Cuba.  Jim works with United Church of Canada partners across Latin America and the Caribbean, and brings us voices and stories that don't often make the mainstream media. He notes, “Debate on human sexuality continues in many other churches around the world, and slowly, space is won.”

(Photo by Jim Hodgson: Methodist consultation on inclusion. In Medellín, Jim was invited to lead about 20 leaders of the Colombian Methodist Church (ICM) in a two-day workshop on inclusion.
Jim explains, "For several years, the church has had a non-discrimination policy that protects sexual minorities, but the sense among leaders is it that it would be better to have a more positive, welcoming position.")

And we have good news via General Council staff member Jordan Sullivan about United Church partners in Korea: "With the United Church of Canada's support, the National Council of Churches in Korea has published and widely distributed the World Council of Churches book, “Facing our Differences.” Read more about this step forward here. To repeat Jim Hodgson’s reminder: space is slowly won.
 
Third time the charm? Federal trans* rights bill tries again
 
In December, the Montreal Gazette noted that, “The NDP has once again presented a bill… to the federal Parliament that would see gender identity and gender expression added to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.” This is the third try; the previous effort died in the Conservative-dominated Senate last spring. Bill C-204 will likely face similar hurdles, and as we hear about formal efforts to lobby for it, we’ll post them on Facebook and the website. Please help us by posting or sending us information as groups gear up to fight, again, for this important group of rights and protections.
 
This Globe and Mail article from December 2015 also offers a good overview of the related and existing patchwork of provincial and territorial laws across the country.
 
Reminder: New resources 
 
FREE download of the United Church’s first-ever trans*-focused webinar:
This online conversation included at least 50 people from across the country, and heard reflections and analysis from five trans* people active in the United Church.
You can still download the webinar and use it in your ministry; this link will take you to the EDGE Store where you can “order” the webinar free of charge.
 
Ordering the webinar through the EDGE Store requires that people either create an account or just give their email address. They then – very quickly - receive an email with a link that downloads a file containing a direct link to the webinar
 
The United Church asks that we use this link when sharing it with others, so that they can track how many people the webinar is reaching.
 
Celebrating Gender Diversity education kit:
This free resource from the United Church of Canada is available for download here.
 
The kit’s introduction says it best: “We hope that this resource will speak to people in all ministries of the church—whether you are a leader in a local worship or social justice committee, a ministry engaged in the Affirming Ministries Program, a camp board looking for practical tools to make camp more welcoming, or an individual seeking resources to support your own personal advocacy."

This resource joins the array of other excellent titles available free of charge at   http://www.united-church.ca/humanrights/gender#more
 
Facebook and more Facebook: And while we’re at it: Facebook is an important way of connecting our far-flung community.  We ask you to  “like” our page and consider joining our Facebook group. Our page gives you all sorts of updates, and our group is a safe space for community discussion. As always, anything AUSE posts publicly can be shared freely.
 
New Affirming ministries
 
Here’s a great article from CBC on a recent addition to the family: Trinity-Clifton United Church, Prince Edward Island's first Affirming ministry! Trinity-Clifton will hold its celebration in the next few months, completing the last step in its formal process. Watch our website and Facebook for opportunities to send them a note of support. In our next newsletter, we’ll have the dates of several other celebrations to share with you. 

Affirming Ministries in action: On the air
 
Beaconsfield United Church is an Affirming ministry in the Montreal area. Among their work, they support the West Island LGBTQ Centres (youth and senior).
On Thursday, January 14th at 10 pm Eastern, they’ll be on a radio talk show at CJAD, 800AM, and invite everyone to “listen and/or call in from 10:00 pm onwards with your questions on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning issues.”

Note that CJAD broadcasts on the internet too- select “listen live” at the top of their page. January 14’s panel of guests include Bill Ryan, a professor of Social Work at McGill University and international expert inthe field of sexuality, sexual education, homophobia, health, and gay men's health; Reverend Shaun Fryday, minister at Beaconsfield United Church; Cindy Casey, Board Chair for the Centres; and Ian Nelson, Director of the LGBTQ Youth and Senior Centres.
 
If you’re an Affirming ministry or in the process, why not tell your story through your local media? The media are often in search of trusted groups who can offer commentary on LGBT+ identities and rights. Make sure that your local outlets know you’re a  (sadly) rare thing: a Christian community that fully includes gender and sexual minorities.

Affirming ministries in action: Welcoming refugees
 
Hundreds of United Church congregations are currently involved in sponsoring refugees to come to Canada; while the media has focused on Syrian refugees, for decades community and faith groups have been sponsoring people fleeing persecution and violence. Many sponsoring congregations are Affirming, and that isn’t surprising.

As Rev. Jeff Doucette at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, an Affirming congregation in Ontario, puts it, “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. ”
 
Go to our website to hear more about the United Church’s and Affirming ministries’ efforts- and help us hear your story by telling us about your own ministry's work in support of refugees. 


 
 
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