Here’s an update on where things are at with the Affirming Ministry process at First United Church. We’re guessing some of you may have questions since the process was cut off and abruptly put on hold with the arrival of COVID-19.
If you’re anything like us, maybe the arrival of the pandemic and all the changes that have come with it have blurred your pre-COVID memories a bit too, so let’s travel back in time together for a moment, starting in the fall of 2019 ….
- The Affirming Ministry Committee began the official Affirming vote process and developed an Affirming Vision Statement and Affirming Action Plan in consultation with Council and the congregation over the course of the fall and early winter.
- At the Oct.19 service, Laura Budd shared her personal story and touched many hearts and minds.
- In November, upon our church’s invitation, the Chinook Gay-Straight Alliances began to hold their monthly Rainbow Coffeehouses for youth in our church.
- In early 2020, the Affirming Vision Statement and Action Plan were approved by Council and by Affirm United, and a date of March 22 was set for the Affirming vote.
- A workshop on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was planned for April 5.
Then, when we were just a few days away from holding our vote on whether to officially become an Affirming Ministry, everything shut down across the province due to COVID-19. The vote was cancelled and the NVC workshop was cancelled, just like so much in our church and in our lives at that time. Life altered radically.
Since then, the Affirming Ministry Committee has continued to be active.
- In May, we joined with the Outreach Committee and distributed an email to the congregation listing some of the local non-profit groups supporting people dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 and outlining ways to receive support or offer support, depending on each person’s situation at the time.
- On June 7, we held an online Pride service where four guest speakers (two from our own congregation – Janet and Deb – and two from our local community – Dawn and Jesse) shared their heartfelt stories with us with great courage and openness.
- In July, we sent a letter to our local MP, Jeremy Patzer, asking him to support Bill C-8 (re: the banning of conversion therapy). The letter was sent in partnership with Council and was signed by myself, Annette as our Minister, and Kevin Hanna as the Chair of Council.
That brings us to today. Saskatchewan has been slowly and carefully re-opening. The church has been slowly and carefully re-opening. Many of us are slowly and carefully “re-opening” as we figure out how to live our lives within this new reality. Many things that have been put on hold are now being looked at again, and one of those things within our church is the Affirming Ministry process.
As a first step in resuming this journey, the Affirming Ministry Committee invites you to watch this video in which we share some of what we’ve learned and why we feel strongly that it’s important for us to move forward together: https://youtu.be/uLWMuxALcts.
The Affirming Ministry Committee, First United Church
The Affirming Ministry Committee at the First United Church has emerged as a coming together of people who already see our ministry as a welcoming and inclusive space in many ways, and who feel inspired to explore how we can expand that inclusiveness even more widely.
Why Explore Becoming an Affirming Ministry? ¹
Because our church is already welcoming in many ways, you may be wondering why we would like our ministry to consider becoming Affirming. It’s because being an Affirming Ministry goes beyond merely welcoming all people. Words like welcoming or inclusion suggest those on the inside have the power to choose to accept those on the outside. This makes it sound like an act of charity to welcome those who are different from us or who are marginalized. However, it’s not our place to welcome anyone because church is not a private club and we are not the gatekeepers. In the church, by God’s grace, everyone is already included in the celebration. Just as God rejoices in the goodness and diversity of all creation, Affirming Ministries honour and celebrate diversity. Ministries that choose to become Affirming discover that embracing difference brings blessing and joy to their community. A community that is able to celebrate its diversity:
• is better equipped to solve problems in a collaborative way.
• is more able to learn and benefit from the varied experiences and talents of its members.
• manages conflict more creatively.
• is less judgmental and thus able to embrace a wider range of ideas and perspectives.
• is enriched by a great variety of different knowledge, stories, and ways of seeing the world.
Affirmation is not just for those on the “outside”—it helps all members to bring their whole and authentic selves to the community. As an Affirming Ministry, we can work in many different ways toward the healing and wholeness of creation — challenging bias and discrimination based on appearance, culture, gender identity or sexual orientation, class, or age; working to end racism; promoting economic justice; increasing accessibility; or caring for the planet.
Signs of an Affirming Ministry ²
So What’s Our First Step at the First United Church?
¹,² Adapted from Open Hearts: Resources for Affirming Ministries in The United Church of Canada; Alyson C. Huntly; Revised Jan 2017
Affirming Differing Abilities
At a church circle conversation we watched this short video on differing abilities, and participated in exploring our awareness around the issues brought up by Stella Young:
In response to the initial feedback we received from the congregation, the Affirming Ministry Committee is focusing first on affirming differing abilities.
Thus far, we have taken the following actions:
• Approached the Building and Property Committee with congregation concerns and suggestions re: accessibility, resulting in the formation of an Accessibility Working Group to focus on increasing accessibility within our church.
• Hosted a Circle Conversation centered on Ability and Inclusion on Sept. 24, 2017.
• Invited the congregation to brainstorm ways to make our building and activities more accessible to people with physical disabilities (during the Oct. 15, 2017 service):
—The ideas generated can be found on colorful sticky notes posted on the bulletin board at the rear of the Sanctuary.
• Approached SaskAbilities about possible partnerships which led to:
—Their clients volunteering in the gym and in the kitchen during preparation
for Loose Change Suppers.
—The church offering space for their fitness program sessions.
The Power Flower
The Power Flower is a tool developed in Canada over 25 years ago to assist in educating people about their social identity. It is an attempt to identify who we are in relation to those who wield power in our society. As you can see in the diagram, the centre of the flower is divided into 16 segments, each representing one aspect of our social identity. One segment has been left blank. That has been done deliberately to allow us to identify a category that would be specific to our environment.
This centre is surrounded by double set of petals, out outer and one inner. To fill in the Power Flower we start with the outer petals. In each of these outer petals we write the dominant or powerful identities in our society (eg. Ability/Disability – able-bodied or Sexual Orientation – heterosexuall). Then in the inner petals we fill in our own identity.
When the flower is complete it is interesting to note how many of our inner petals are different than the outer petals. If they are different this means that we do not share in those areas of power that exist in our society. These are areas where we are on the margins. Note that the majority of these categories are not ones that can be easily changed. Some are aspects of our identity that were determined before we were even born.
These aspects of our social identity influence the power and the position that we hold in our society. They may impact how we are perceived or how we are treated by our fellow human beings. Many of us have experienced an incredible amount of privilege in our lives based solely on the colour of our skin, and the country in which we were born. Others have experienced the pain and isolation that comes from being part of a marginalized group, a powerless minority. And most of us have social identities that are combinations of both.
Exploring Privilege – What is it & why does it matter?
At a church circle conversation we began by watching this short video on privilege, and participated in exploring what privilege means and why it’s important to be aware of privilege.
Exploring Stereotypes and Myths About Indigenous Culture
On April 29, the Affirming Ministry explored stereotypes and myths about Indigenous culture in a Circle Conversation session
We invite you to watch the two parts of 8th Fire and answer the following questions:
1. Something I learned or realized while watching this video is…
2. When I reflect on what I’ve learned about indigenous stereotypes and history, I feel …
8th Fire Part 1
8th Fire Part 2
Increasing Accessibility in the First United Church Sanctuary
The Affirming Ministry Committee, in consultation with others, has developed a plan to make the First United Church sanctuary more accessible for people in wheelchairs and people with walkers, crutches, casts, and baby car seats/strollers, as well as other accessibility scenarios.The plan is to shorten six pews as indicated in the drawing below.
Some of the considerations that led us to this decision are:
• Four accessible spaces were designated based on guidelines recommending that congregations of 50-300 members create at least that many spaces.
• The locations were chosen both because they allow effective access and because they appear aesthetically balanced in the sanctuary space.
• Two pews are being shortened in each of the rear locations in order to provide sufficient depth so that wheelchairs do not protrude into the main aisles, thus leaving the aisles clear for wedding and funeral processions.
• Pews are being shortened in a variety of locations (rather than removing one entire pew) so that the families/friends of people using the accessibility spaces can sit beside them on the shortened pews.
The Affirming Ministry Committee welcomes your feedback on whether we have overlooked anything in our choice of locations for the accessible spaces. Feedback can be left at the Church Office or with our committee members. The deadline for feedback is Feb. 21, 2019.
Currently, our committee members are Amy Popick, Janet Keene, Annette Taylor, Amanda Polsfut, Stacie Noble Wiebe and Margaret Lottridge. Please feel free to approach any one of us with your questions and ideas. Or if you feel more comfortable, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome your input! We need your input! Your voice matters!