Talks surrounding homosexuality and religion are difficult conversations but are becoming more frequent as more ministries move toward an affirming stance.
An affirming ministry is one that accepts and works towards healthy relationships with LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transsexual or Questioning) people in the community. St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe is one such ministry.
“An affirming congregation is a national movement of the United Church where congregations go through an educational process that is designed to really address the issues that are raised by the presence of LGBTQ people in a congregation, with the intention of welcoming all people,” said Rev. Ross Smillie, who started the Affirm group within St. Andrew’s United.
There will be a conversation led by Wendy Gritter and New Direction Ministry in Lacombe on Nov. 8th to address the issues surrounding religious participation and the LGBTQ community, titled the ‘Generous Spaciousness Conversation’. The intent is a welcoming atmosphere where people can listen to how LGBTQ people can find their place within religious groups.
The conversation will take place at the Bethel Christian Reformed Church from 7-9 p.m. There is no cost, but Gritter said donations are welcome to help cover expenses for speakers. Guests are askedto RSVP with firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘RSVP Lacombe’ prior to the event.
The Affirm group at St. Andrew’s has evolved to cover more than just LGBTQ issues. Smillie said that the group is now looking to how they can become more inclusive to all marginalized members of the community.
“A big part of what we’re doing now is less focused on sexual orientation and gender identity and more on how do we as a congregation become a community that’s really open to some of the challenges,” he said.
“There are lots of people who are marginalized in our community because of different things – poverty, and mental health – there’s lots of work that can be done. We’ve barely even started to scratch the surface on some of these issues.”
Gritter said the conversation presented by New Direction Ministries is open to anyone who wishes to learn more about how faith and LGBTQ people can coincide and anyone who is able to listen supportively to the speakers.
“This is not a discussion. This is not a debate – it is a chance to respectfully listen to people who have dealt with these issues. This is a respectful dialogue.”
Smillie believes that society is becoming more tolerant of issues surrounding religion and the LGBTQ community, but he wishes that people could move past tolerance.
“Tolerance, to me, is very weak. When you tolerate someone, you put up with him or her. But what does it mean to move past tolerance to be genuinely affirming and accepting of people. In some cases, that will mean having really difficult conversations and being really honest about different opinions,” he said.
“Living with particular differences in convictions and things will not be easy to overcome. But we still need to recognize each other as human beings and being brothers and sisters in Christ. I would hate for us to stop at tolerance because we can do better than that.”
The Generous Spaciousness concept explores a similar theme of genuine acceptance. Gritter’s book, titled Generous Spaciousness – Responding to Gay Christians in the Church explains how she once believed that the two communities could not co-exist, and how she came to realize her position of acceptance.
The affirming movement goes hand in hand with the Generous Spaciousness conversation as they both promote a fact-based ongoing conversation that aims to open people’s minds to the idea of accepting people.
“We use the term affirming because it means attempting to move into a posture of being genuinely welcoming rather than just putting up with people. Nobody wants to be put up with, nobody wants to just be tolerated – we want to be loved for who we are. And everybody deserves that,” said Smillie.
“My sense is that now this is going to start to move into more of an interdenominational scale.
This effort that the Generous Spaciousness kinds of conversations bring forth means that conversations are not going to be so rare anymore.”
For more information on the Generous Spaciousness conversation, go to the New Direction Ministry web site. For more information on Affirm, go to St. Andrew’s United Church or check out the weekly community events page in the Express newspaper for contact information.