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Welcome to your June-July 2019 newsletter from Affirm United/ S'affirmer Ensemble!
In this edition: 

Annual conference July 26-28, Calgary: help us spread the good word, and please register!
Response to the Vatican: 'If your god discredits the humanity of a group of people, there is a problem with your god'
Pride, PIE, and rejecting hate
Iridesce: The Living Apology Project update
Global and partner news:
LGBTQIA+ refugees, struggles in Kenya, ecumenical reminders
Resources for our work
Affirming Network
Welcome to seven new Affirming ministries, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island!
Affirming ministries in action


One:       Creating God—God beyond Gender,
All:        who makes no mistakes,
            who surprises us always,
            who molded the first person both male and female,
who molded the first non-gendered human
            who loves all creation.
One:       Help us love the diversity of your creation.
All:        Help us accept all varieties of gender in ourselves and in others.
One:       Help us celebrate those who are different from us
All:        That we may learn to love each other as you love us,
            We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, both human and divine.
—Rev. Cindy Bourgeois, Wesley United Church, Regina, SK.

Annual conference July 26-28, Calgary: help us spread the good word, and please register!

Join us for the Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble national conference in Calgary, July 26-28 2019 at Hillhurst United Church, Calgary.

Programming is available for children and youth aged 4(ish) to 17!
Draft schedule here. (PDF)
Bios of our amazing presenters and resource people here.
Cost: Entire conference (Friday-Sunday): $175 OR Saturday only $150. Subsidies are available.
Can you help us promote the conference? All images, posters, text and PowerPoint slides are available right here- share away!

Our theme: DISRUPTIVE FAITH: Forging Brave & Inclusive Communities in Divided Times. When the voices of religious intolerance, prejudice and hatred seem to be growing louder, how do we amplify our voices as affirming faith communities, and speak up for love and inclusion? Bring your ideas! Our time together will include theme speakers, worship, theatre, lots of conversation, children’s programming, great meals, and AUSE’s annual meeting. You do not need to be a member of Affirm United, or be LGBTQIA+ or Two Spirit to attend. All are welcome.

Response to the Vatican: 'If your god discredits the humanity of a group of people, there is a problem with your god' 
In mid June, the Vatican released a deeply harmful and hurtful document that denied the existence of trans and non binary people, while calling for “dialogue”. Rev Cindy Bourgeois offered this important opinion piece in return. Please share! Cindy ministers at Wesley United in Regina, SK and is AUSE’s secretary.

Pride, PIE, and rejecting hate
June is the launch of Pride season, and many ministries have been navigating the season’s exciting and tiring series of marches, displays, worship, and other public witness. Many participated in the United Church of Canada’s first ever designated Pride Sunday, June 2.  Thank you! (Left: MacDougall United Church in Edmonton AB celebrates Pride Sunday.)

However, too many in our family have had to also plan a direct and non violent response to Christian hate groups, and assorted fellow travellers. Such groups tried to disrupt Hamilton Pride, despite repeated earlier warnings of this possibility, and more such hate presence is expected at other festivals and marches.

Please be vigilant at Pride festivals, and around your buildings and other spaces, especially if you have public, intentional and explicit expressions of your commitment to gender and sexually diverse communities (which we hope you do). Consider together what your response might be if faced with protesters. Expect to put up with anonymous calls and emails, theft or graffiti. Our (closed) Affirm United Facebook group community is a good place to seek advice and support.

Ladner United Church in the Vancouver area had their Pride flag defaced twice in twelve days, and when this hit the news, their Google reviews were also filled with hateful and phobic comments, many of them claiming to be biblically based. They reached out to the community for advice and support, the reviews were reported and removed, the black spray paint covered with a heart, then the flag was defaced again. And they will carry on. (See more below). (Photo: Public/ Intentional/ Explicit welcome planning at an Affirming leaders' workshop by Affirming Connections, Calgary in May 2019)

While it’s true such extreme groups and individuals do not represent most Christians, Christians also need to remember that our tradition has not been an ally to LGBTQIA+ and especially Two Spirit people. If we want to say we’re different, we must witness to that together, genuinely, publicly and with Spirit-ed intention. Your public presence at Pride, and throughout the year, makes a difference, even if you never know the results.

Global and partner news: LGBTQIA+ refugees, struggles in Kenya, ecumenical reminders

In 2020, the federal government will allow private groups to bring more LGBTQ2 refugees to Canada through a dedicated program. Again AUSE asks that you and your community of faith prayerfully discern what support you can offer our kin seeking refuge from violence. There are always more requests than sponsors, and the United Church is one of the very few Sponsorship Agreement Holders that works with refugees arriving under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

In late May in Kenya, “a three judge panel ruled against repealing provisions 162 and 165 which criminalise same sex conduct. The Court had been asked to review the constitutionality of Section 162 of the Penal Code, which provides for criminal sanctions to be imposed on individuals convicted of engaging in or permitting someone else to engage with them in ‘carnal acts against the order of nature’ – a definition which includes any sex outside of coitus, as well as section 165 of the Penal Code which makes provision for sanctions against male consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

The Court’s decision, on Friday 24th May, declared a lack of evidence of extensive discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, throughout the country.” This should be unbelievable, but it’s not, and in fact is all too familiar to many global advocates striving to end similar laws against same-gender relationships. We express sorrow to our Kenyan kin and continued strength in their struggle for basic justice.

Keeping our Canadian ecumenical kin in prayer and support
At the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s recent Synod, some say small steps towards better inclusion of LGBTQIA people were taken. Others feel steps toward entrenching discrimination were taken. Here’s one perspective on the complexities, struggles, and promise of the decision.

In July, the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod meets in Vancouver. Equal marriage will again be on the agenda, continuing a long and difficult conversation amongst Anglicans that has often left our LGBTQIA+, Two Spirit, and allied kin feeling unheard and dehumanized, even in the midst of their courageous witness.
Please follow the continuing news about ecumenical affirming work as you can, and offer prayer and support to ecumenical kin.

Iridesce: The Living Apology Project update
In this third year of the Iridesce: The Living Apology Project, facilitators and coaches have been hired to help communities of faith use the Iridesce Workshop Template and Theatre Play as well as collect stories, and conduct workshops and/or small group conversations.

The project will focus on building relationships with 2SLGBTQIA+ people who are racialized, Two-Spirit/Indigenous, or have (in)visible disabilities, as well as individuals and communities of faith who have never engaged the issue of what happened in 1988 and/or may feel isolated from those in the church who are engaging these issues. This work will continue until November 30, 2019. You are invited to join the Facebook Group.
For more information please email the Project Coordinator.

* 2SLGBTQIA+ represents Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allies, and anyone who does not identify as cisgender or heterosexual.

Below: Pacific Mountain Regional Council votes in unanimous favour of beginning the Affirming process, 2 June 2019. 

Resources for our work
Pride Sunday in the United Church was June 2, but the resources shared are as good as ever. The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity has produced a free Canadian trans and queer history colouring book!

Welcome to new Affirming ministries!
Gratitude to these safer sacred spaces for their holy commitment to radical inclusion:

Sylvan United Church, Mill Bay BC
Emmanuel United Church, Sault Ste Marie ON
Grace United Church, Sarnia ON
Gower St United Church, St John’s NL
Silver Spire United Church, St Catharines ON
Golden Ears United Church, Maple Ridge BC
Trinity United Church, Cannington ON

Gower Street United (above) became the first Affirming ministry on the island of Newfoundland! Read their celebration’s story and enjoy some photos here.

Over on the other coast, Sylvan United Church became the latest formally Affirming ministry on Vancouver Island. They write, “We had a wonderful affirming celebration Sunday May 26th. Children and adults participated together in the call to worship, and we were so pleased to be joined in worship, and in our ongoing celebration afterwards, by members of the Cowichan Pride Community. 

The sanctuary was filled with open-hearted people celebrating our affirming journey. After the service two young people from Sylvan stepped up and volunteered to carry our rainbow banner in the Cowichan Valley’s first Youth Pride Parade this coming Saturday afternoon, and I think this is symbolic of our commitment to being more out in the community with our message of welcome, inclusion and support.”

Affirming ministries in action
The good work of Islington United Church in Toronto made the news! Media, especially local media and blogs, continue to be great ways of furthering our Affirming stories. Let them know about your plans.

Many ministries are in the midst of Pride festivals or planning. Remember to take photos and share them in our AUSE Facebook group or page!

As mentioned above, Ladner United Church in BC has been dealing with flag defacing; the local high school offered some creative support after the second round of flag defacing. Photos below supplied by Ladner United after some creative stitching and a worship. 

Ladner United Church's revived flag. 
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