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.