A church celebration in Parksville on Sunday may have seemed unusual to some, but not to members of Knox United Church, who say they are simply taking their support for the lesbain, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to the next level.
“We think you need to be really open about it and intentional about saying, yes we really mean it, we’re inclusive, we believe in diversity and we think it’s necessary to be public and say here’s the sign,” said Wendy Reimer, a member of the Knox United Church congregation and chair of the Affirming Team.
Sunday was Knox’s official celebration marking the decision to join Affirm United, a justice-oriented organization of people in the United Church of Canada formed in 1982 to support individual lesbian and gay members of the church and to advocate for their full inclusion. The Affirming Ministries Program was launched in 1992, helping congregations declare themselves fully inclusive.
The United Church officially endorsed the program in 2000 and encouraged its ministries to participate.
This makes Knox United the fourth United Church on the Island to become an Affirming Ministry and the 10th in the province. The church now has signs and images up showing the colours of the rainbow, symbolizing their inclusiveness, diversity and their support of the LGBT community.
Knox United has been transitioning to becoming an Affirming Ministry for three years, educating its members by showing films and having discussions on the decision to be fully inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They voted in October and Reimer said there wasn’t a lot of opposition in the end.
Reimer, who has a gay child, said years ago when she showed pictures of her children’s same-sex wedding some jaws dropped, but over the years people have become much more accepting. Although Knox’s reverend Hilde Seal is openly gay, the idea to become an affirming ministry came from one of their elder members, Reimer said, who wrote letters and kept insisting that it was time enough they take the step. A committee was formed including gay member Maggie, who until then had kept her sexual orientation to herself. Maggie didn’t want to give her last name.
Maggie said she’s has never been one to talk about her sexual orientation, and that stems from growing up in a small community and in a family that would have found it inappropriate to discuss such things, she said. Joining the task force was a really good step in her own personal journey, she said, as she “came out” for the first time, among friends.
“I had been at Knox long enough that I felt comfortable in coming out,” she said.
But her and her partner are still very careful, she said, as she’s seen examples in Parksville where gay people were treated in a less-than-positive manner.
Maggie was pleasantly surprised by the amount of church members who voted to support the LGBT community and this decision, and feels it will now be more attractive for those people, their friends, family members and supporters to come to the church.
Maggy and Reimer said the decision was a victory for the LGBT community and a victory for the church, by creating a place where everyone in the community can be open about who they are and feel safe.
“It makes you feel after all these years at the age of 63, oh, it’s okay in this group, finally,” said Maggie. “In fact it [feels] more than ok.”