From Rev. Dana’s Desk

June 1, 2023

On Sunday May 28 the congregation was invited to a conversation about identity and being an affirming congregation. Thank you to those who were able to join us. We wanted to share with you some of what was shared in that conversation. We began by sharing experiences when we had felt affirmed in who we are, some aspect of our identity. We noticed that we felt affirmed when we felt seen as who we are and valued by others. Being affirmed is more than being accepted, or welcomed by others, it requires intentionality, as other people’s actions spoke of how they valued us and who we were.

We looked at two definitions of what it means to be an affirming church or community. The first one comes from a personal experience of what affirming meant to them. The second comes from the United Church of Canada who have a much more specific process. Based on these definitions we considered what it could mean for us to call ourselves an Affirming Congregation.

Sam Briton (An article in The Advocate, entitled, “The difference between an affirming church and a welcoming church is huge”) who said, “Welcoming and affirming” is the common language that we in the queer faith community use to demonstrate that a church not only recognizes that LGBTQ people deserve respect, but also the affirmation that they are equally loved by God regardless of who they love or how they identify with their gender.”

United Church of Canada “Affirming Ministries are communities of faith, regional councils, assisted living homes, educational institutions, retreat centres, outdoor ministries and other ministries within the United Church that publicly declare their commitment to inclusion and justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Although Affirming Ministries make an explicit statement about issues of sexuality and gender, their commitment to justice is far broader. They continually grow and change as they seek to live more fully into God‘s way of welcome, love, and justice for all creation. Just as God rejoices in the goodness and diversity of creation, so too Affirming Ministries honour and celebrate diversity.”

We noted that it is important we realize that being an Affirming Congregation will require us to be intentional about not only how we welcome others, especially from the LGBTQ2+ community, and how we ensure that people feel seen and valued. I would ask that you take some time to reflect on these definitions and join us for another conversation in the fall.

Finally, I shared some of the definitions for the letters in the acronym LGBTQ2+, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and 2 Spirited.

These definitions came mostly from PFLAG Toronto website (which originally stands for, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

Lesbian – A term used to describe a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, or affectionately attracted to other women.

Gay – A term used to describe a man who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, or affectionately attracted to other men. At times, “gay” is used to refer to all people, regardless of sex, who have their primary sexual and or romantic attractions to people of the same sex

Bisexual – A person who experiences sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction to people of their own biological sex, as well as, another biological sex.

Transgender – Individuals who have a gender identity that is incongruent from their assigned sex at birth; regardless of sexual orientation. It is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

Queer: Term describing people who have a non-normative gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual anatomy — can include lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgender people, and a host of other identities. Since the term is sometimes used as a slur, it has a negative connotation for some LGBT people; nevertheless, others have reclaimed it and feel comfortable using it to describe themselves.

2 Spirited – Two-Spirit refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. 2-Spirit is used by some North American Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity. As an umbrella term it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender diversity, as described previously.

As well, we noted that it is not just sexual orientation, but gender identity and some of the terms associated with that as well.

Gender identity – An individual’s internal and individual experience of their gender. This could include an internal sense of being a woman, a man, both or neither. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth

Non-binary – A term used to describe individuals who may experience a gender identity that is neither binary female nor male or is between or beyond both binary genders. Non-binary is an adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories.

Gender fluid – A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender or has a fluid or changing gender identity.  Someone who is gender fluid may feel more feminine at some times, and more masculine at other times.

Gender-neutral pronouns: Gender-neutral pronouns provide an identity for a singular person who does not identify as he/him or she/her. They/them is one of the most common, although there are others. If you’re uncertain, it’s acceptable to offer your pronouns and ask the person for theirs.

This is one of the things I have been working on the last few years, not assuming gender pronouns, which is why you may have noticed my email signature and Zoom name includes (she/her), as a way of stating my pronouns and allowing others to choose and state theirs.

Once again, I want to thank those who took the time to engage in this conversation. It is important that we talk about who we want to be and how we want to be known by others. The intention, as has been noted, is to continue these conversations and reflections and if assuming we want to proceed, to bring a motion to vestry next February to formally declare ourselves as Affirming and be listed on the “Proud Anglicans” website as affirming so that people know we are a safe space for those in the LGBTQ2+ community, a place where they feel values and are affirmed as beloved child of God for who they are.

May 25

A few weeks ago, in the May News from the Pews, I wrote an article about identity as part of ongoing discernment about officially naming ourselves as an Affirming Church. I noted in that article how who we are and how we see ourselves, our identity, is made up of many different aspects, some of which shift over time while others are fairly static or set. I also invited everyone to stay after church this coming Sunday, May 28, for a conversation about identity and what it could mean to be an affirming church. I chose Pentecost Sunday because Pentecost is a time when the Church has in the past celebrated and acknowledged our diversity as a celebration of many facets or manifestations of God that we represent. We are all made in the image of God, and so when we come together in our diverse representations, we are a whole that is greater than the sum of our parts. This is the reason some years ago that the Diocese of Toronto recommended us to celebrate Pentecost as a celebration of multiculturalism. A few years ago, during the pandemic I shared with you a video created by one of the deaneries in Toronto of scripture being read in multiple languages, similar to what the many languages that the Good News was proclaimed in and/or heard that Pentecost morning, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles this Sunday. I had been a part of something similar at St. John the Evangelist in Peterborough where I was an assistant curate and we had the opening words of John’s gospel read, beginning in Greek (likely the original language) and gradually more languages were added until we had a cacophony of voices, of at least 12 languages. As chaotic as it sounded, it was also amazingly meaningful to think about the same words being said in all those languages. It was truly a celebration of the diversity of ways in which the Good News of Jesus has been shared throughout the centuries. Whether we are talking about celebrating multiculturalism, or ethnicity or the multiple languages representing those cultures and heritage, we know that learning about each other and from each other helps us to better appreciate and affirm both our uniqueness and our unity as the human family. 

In a similar vein, with respect to our current conversation about being affirming, learning about some of the different expressions of sexual identity and gender, helps us to see one another as children of God, all made in the image of God and loved by God. One of the great things for me is the way that people are being encouraged to express who they are, in whom they love and how they identify with their gender. For some these are new ideas, new ways of understanding sexual identity and gender, beyond what we may have seen and experienced in our lives. This is one of the reasons we as an Advisory Board wanted to take the necessary time to more fully engage in this process, in order to invite people into the conversation, to invite the questions and wondering, to a time of learning together and from each other. Sunday will be the first of what we hope will be at least a few conversations, opportunities to talk with one another, to share our experiences, our thoughts, feelings and questions. 

To try to make it a little easier, we are going to start out in groups of 2-4 people of your choosing. You can choose to speak just in your small group, or also later as part of larger conversation, whatever you are comfortable with. This is similar to what we did about a month ago when we had a conversation about Psalm 23 as the “sermon”. As was true that day, no expertise is required, it is your own experience that we will begin with, and listening for commonalities. We will talk about what it might mean, a couple of ways of defining what an Affirming Congregation might be and address some of the common questions. Our one request is that people be respectful, because for some this process cannot move fast enough, while for some there are questions, and for some they may disagree. We need to be able to listen and respond to another with respect, as is part of our baptismal identity – respect and dignity for every human being. 

For those like me that like time to think about their response, the initial question or conversation for your group of 2-4 people, which is based on my article on identity, is: “Share a time when you felt your identity, who you are, was affirmed or celebrated by another person or a group of people. What was it that made it a positive experience for you?” Our plan is that the conversation will be 45 minutes to an hour at the most. 

Please plan to stay on Sunday after the service. There will be some refreshments you can bring back to your seat. 

May 18, 2023

The three days leading up to Ascension Day (today May 18, the 40th day of Easter when we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven) have for centuries been known as Rogation Days. But what are they and are they still relevant today? They originated in Vienne, France, in the 5th century as days of fasting and prayer to ward off a threatened disaster. Later, in England they were associated with the blessing of the fields at planting as clergy would walk the boundaries of the parish (“beating the bounds”) to clearly define where one parish ended and another began. Parishes were more than church or spiritual boundaries, they were civil boundaries and the clergy were responsible for all the people within their parish, not just those who attended the church. Geographical boundaries are far less important today as people often choose to attend a church for reasons other than geography and now as people attend virtually from around the world even. As well, there is no longer one church or faith community but often multiple ones that live, work and pray alongside each other. On the other hand, in an age when fewer and fewer people are connected to any faith community, perhaps we need to remember that the ministry of the church is not only for those within the church, but the wider community as well. Part of our mission, as we celebrate at both Ascension and Pentecost, is our witness and ministry to the wider world. As an interesting side note, part of my ministry this year was sitting on the working group to establish the new Archdeaconries. As we looked at how to divide the diocese up among the new archdeacons, we discovered that over the years with parish closures and amalgamations, there are a number of places that are no longer included in any official parish boundaries and there are some places where boundaries overlap. 

The old tradition of walking the boundaries of the parish is probably irrelevant now and in our case I’m not even going to guess how many kilometers that would be, but I think walking the streets of the community praying for the community can still be a valuable and important ministry. I want to encourage you this spring to walk around your neighbourhood, to pray for the people you see, for businesses, schools, and other gathering places that you pass by. In praying for others, we begin to think about who they are and what joys, sorrows and challenges are a part of their lives or the daily happenings in a particular building. Praying for the community leads to us feeling more connected and invested in our community, which is one of the biggest challenges of our age – a lack of connection or community. This is a ministry that anyone can do, even if you can’t walk around your neighbourhood, you can pray for immediate neighbours.  

Rogation Days were also marked by the clergy processing around the fields reciting psalms and the prayers, and by people gathering to pray for fertility, good crops, and protection from natural disasters. This serves as an important reminder of our dependence on the earth and the need to care for it, as we promise in our baptism and every time we renew our baptism, to protect, sustain and renew the earth. As a child I remember going to the farm of one of the parishioners, praying for the farm equipment, the farm itself and the family who worked it. I also remember times when we would gather outside the church to pray and offer thanksgiving for the church gardens and those who tended them. Whether it is praying for the farms around us and we blessed with an abundance, or for backyard gardens, as the growing season begins now is a good time to be reminded as the Israelites were reminded as they entered the Promised Land, that God provides the goodness, in the land and in our ability to cultivate it. Let us offer our prayers and thanksgiving to God for God’s goodness and pray for those whose lives and livelihoods are connected to producing the goods of the earth, in all their variety. 

Rogation Days may have just passed now, but the traditions associated with them can inform our lives and ministry as we pray for our community and as we give thanks and pray for the earth and those who work it. 

May 4, 2023

For Lent and Easter this year we have been reading frequently from John’s gospel. One of the benefits of this is that as we hear different portions of this gospel, the underlying themes begin to emerge. I have talked about some of those in the sermons, and one of those themes for me is the way that John uses the idea of knowing that God’s identity, who God is, is revealed through Jesus. God can seem remote, and that was certainly the feeling of many in the Hebrew Bible and in Jesus’ time. They believed in God, but God seemed distant. In part it was because people had wanted to keep God at a distance, like in the Exodus when God’s presence with them seemed overwhelming and they were only too happy for Moses to act as an intermediary between God and the people. So, when Jesus comes, he says one of the reasons that he came was to reveal God, so that people could know God in a more personal way and in knowing God could have a relationship with God.

As I said at the celebration of life this past Saturday, who we are, our identity, is revealed in part by the stories of our life, those we tell and those told about us. God’s stories are told in scripture, what God chose to reveal to God’s people at various times, the stories of how God interacted with people, and what people thought about God. When it comes to our lives, what are the stories that we tell that point to what is important to us, and through which we allow other people to know us, our identity? Similarly, what are the stories that other people tell about us that also point to who we are? When all these stories come together, we get a clearer sense of someone’s identity.

This question of who we are, our identity, is one that we have been thinking about for a while. In a workshop I attended within the last few years, it began with this question of who are you, and an image of a puzzle with a multitude of pieces that come together in our unique identity. There are obvious aspects – the colour of our skin, physical attributes like height, hair and eye colour, some of which are captured on our identification cards like passports or driver’s licences. These are things that others see and use to identify us. On the other hand, there are aspects of our identity that become known in the course of coming to know someone, such as career, hobbies, or heritage, to name a few. For example, while I am only 1/8 Norwegian, I feel a connection to Norway and celebrate when their athletes win (except against Canada). I don’t have that same connection to England even though that makes up far more of my ancestry. The answer to the question, “who are you?” is complicated and complex because we are complicated and complex people, each uniquely created and formed, and who we are changes over time.

Another thing that makes our identity complex is there are parts of us that we are very public about and we want people to know and there are aspects that we may keep to ourselves, we may even be afraid or ashamed for others to know. In some cases that fear or shame is based on how we think others will perceive us, or how society at large sees certain aspects of our identity and judges them as good or bad. There is also a tendency to affirm that which is common and ostracize that which is different. We have become more and more aware of this in recent years as we have been challenged to embrace and celebrate the diversity of humanity. We have also become aware of the potential harm that can happen when people are made to feel they should hide a part of themselves in order to fit in or to feel safe.

Identity, who we are and how others see us, and the acceptance and even affirmation of who we are is at the centre of our conversations as a parish about what it could and would mean to be an affirming congregation. It is a conversation that we started about six months ago, and that I have written about at various times. It is a conversation about identity, first our congregational identity, who or how we see ourselves as a congregation. And second, can or how do we affirm and uphold the identity of those who identify as LGBTQ2+, especially when the Church historically has been a source of fear and shame when it comes to sexual orientation and gender as part of someone’s identity. As the next step in this ongoing reflection and discernment process, the Advisory Board is inviting you to a congregational conversation on May 28 after the service. You are invited, to come with your questions, to come whether you agree or disagree with being an affirming church. It is a conversation that will begin with our own experiences of being welcomed and affirmed as who we are, our identity, then what it could mean to affirm others in their identity or what makes it challenging to do so. We come, respecting the different perspectives and opinions that we hold, to listen to one another and to learn and reflect together. Please join me and the members of the Advisory Board as we seek to learn and grow together.

April 20, 2023

This Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day. As Christians we believe that all things have been created by God and from the beginning God entrusted God’s precious creation into the hands of the ones made in God’s image, us. This is both a tremendous responsibility and honour we have been given, but one that we have not always done well. This is something we are becoming much more aware of, the damage that has been and is being done to our world and our part in it. This recognition finds expression in our Ash Wednesday confession and includes the petition “For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, Accept our repentance, Lord.” As well, some years ago, the Anglican Church of Canada added a question to the baptismal covenant with regards to creation care. When we renew our baptismal promises along with the baptismal candidate and their sponsor, we are asked, “will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth?” to which we answer, “I will with God’s help.” These are two liturgical expressions of our commitment to being better stewards of creation. 

As we mark Earth Day this year, what are some simple ways we can strive to be stewards of creation? 

–     Plant or add pollinator-friendly herbs and flowers to your garden to provide crucial habitat for these important wildlife species on which our food supply depends. Pollinators are in danger and we need them as part of agriculture, it is not something that can be easily replicated by other processes. 

–     Eat Local. The less distance our food supply has to travel, the less pollution is created in getting it to market and to our table. It also supports our local farmers and community, so they can continue to offer us quality locally grown and raised food. We are blessed to have a wide variety of produce grown and accessible locally. It can also be healthier for us to eat locally, which can be a relative term. I remember learning some years ago that all produce that crosses the border has to be fumigated, which becomes part of what we ingest (no matter how much we wash it first), when we consume produce grown outside of Canada. Knowing where our food comes from, whether fresh or not, is part of sustainable living. 

–     Choosing Thrift and Vintage Clothes Shopping. When we choose second-hand clothes, they are not only cheaper, but we are keeping those items out of landfills, or being shipped overseas for disposal (and many countries are no longer accepting these shipments). Some of my favourite jackets and sweaters have come from our and other second-hand shops.

–     Choose reusable items over disposable and support businesses that use them. With recent legislation many single use plastics will no longer be available, such as plastic bags, cutlery and takeout containers. Whether it is reusable bags, or bringing our own water bottle, or reusable cup when we attend events or gatherings, or when we order coffee or tea to go, these are small changes we can make to reduce our reliance on single use plastics. As restaurants especially transition, choosing those who use recyclable and compostable takeout helps them survive during this time of transition. A part of our commitment as a congregation three years ago, we said we wanted to encourage the use of ceramic mugs when possible. Even though our coffee hour cups are compostable, there is still an environmental footprint in their making. You may notice that I have chosen to bring my own mug for after church coffee, it is an easy thing to do, and can have a significant impact. There are fabric bags (with ceramic mugs if you want one) available and as part of Earth Day, a donation is being made to cover the cost of mugs and/or the bags for anyone who wants them, just ask. 

These are just a few examples of ways we make simple changes that can have a lasting impact on our world. The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care, who we are appropriately praying for this week in the diocesan cycle of prayer, have their page on the diocesan website, where you can find additional suggestions and resources including practical ways of “greening” our lives, educating ourselves, being an advocate, and links to other similar organizations and groups: Creation Care

We have been warned repeatedly of the consequences of not changing our ways. It may not seem easy but if the last few years has taught us anything, it is that we can adapt quickly when needed. The increasing incidents of extreme weather-related disasters and events, has shown us some of those consequences of not changing our ways. We only have one earth and we must do all we can to protect and renew it. As we mark Earth Day this year, what is one thing you can do or change that would have an impact? 

April 13, 2023

Sunday felt like a giant exhale, the relief that comes after holding your breath too long. It has been four years since the last “normal” Holy Week and Easter. Each of the previous three required us to pivot to fit restrictions, both those imposed from the outside and those we chose to maintain as a community. This year was more of a blending together of our memories of what had been done in the past, with those things that came out of the pandemic and with new ideas better suited to who we are today.

There will be different moments, different services during Holy Week that were meaningful to us, times when it felt holy and sacred. For me there are three moments or times that stood out to me, as being particularly meaningful. First, was the joy and celebratory feeling of Easter morning, the children’s voices, the singing, and conversations afterwards. This is part of something much bigger for me as well, the increased participation throughout Holy Week. After two years of virtual-only services and then last year which though in person, was still much smaller due to our anxieties and apprehensions after three years. Despite the weariness that often comes at the end of a long week, it was energizing and satisfying to experience this heightened participation throughout Holy Week.

Second, the Way of the Cross on Good Friday as I listened to the reflections being read. This was a merging of a tradition of the parish, with the alternative that we offered the last two years. So a new spin on an old tradition.  We walked the same path and followed the same basic format that we have for at least 20 years according to the file for it. The change was reflections and prayers that were offered at each station.  Rather than the narration and reflection, read by the same people at each station, we had different voices that rotated through the stations. While I had read the reflections as part of choosing between the four different options in the booklet, hearing them read by the different voices, who each brought passion and intentionality to their reading, they caused me to reflect more deeply on the meaning and the connection to our lives.

Third, was the gathering of various churches from the Holland Deanery for the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday night. While we are not technically part of that deanery, they have welcomed us with open arms and it was humbling to be asked to be the assisting clergy for the service. The Vigil has always been a meaningful service for us, filled with symbolism, of darkness giving way to light, of hearing the story of God’s relationship with humanity through the various readings, the renewal of baptism and first communion of Easter. It is a service I first participated in during my curacy nearly 18 years ago, and the only year I have not been part of a service is 2020 when we were still fresh in the pandemic and finding our way. Even that year, as part of the “Celebrating Holy Week at Home” I invited people to read through the readings and reflect on our renewed commitment to living out the faith of our baptism. It has often been a small service at Trinity, so it was wonderful to participate in a service with at least 5 different churches and close to 40 people.

These are just a few of my highlights this year, moments that were filled with hope, with meaning and made this Holy Week a holy experience. What were your highlights this Holy Week, when did you feel the sacredness of this holy time? In the meantime, let us catch our breath, and savour these special moments, as we continue on the journey through Easter, continuing to celebrate the hope and the new beginnings that are at the heart of this season.