Special Announcement from Sunday, September 17, 2017.
Good Morning Everyone,
For those who don’t know me, my name is Kathy and I have been a member of Port Wallis since 2001. My three kids all attended Sunday school here, my husband and I renewed our wedding vows here on our 10th anniversary in 1993 and the Port Wallis area is our home.
I am the lead for the Affirm United Committee at Port Wallis which was approved and created in June by the Official Board at Port Wallis. The goal of our committee is to lead Port Wallis United Church through the Affirming Ministry Process.
Here’s a little background about this program and process:
Affirm United a justice-oriented organization of people in The United Church of Canada. AU/SE works for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in The United Church of Canada and in society. The program was launched in 1992. The United Church officially endorsed the program in 2000 and encourages its ministries to participate.
The program encourages all United Church bodies (congregations, presbyteries, conferences, educational centres, camps, chaplaincies) to study and learn what it means to be publicly welcoming and inclusive. The program provides support for sexual orientation and gender identity issues but it also encourages the study of other United Church resources that promote the inclusion of other marginalized groups.
Diversity and inclusion goes beyond the LGBTQ community… The program asks congregations to consider a variety of areas that may be barriers to those coming to your community – age, gender, race, ability, class, economic status and, in particular to the Affirming Ministry, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Affirming Ministries are at the heart of the Affirming movement. There are almost 200 Affirming Ministries and ministries in process across Canada and I am proud to say that Port Wallis is now one of those ministries in process.
Today marks the start of our journey though this process which ends with a vote by the entire congregation on whether or not we become an Affirming Ministry.
Now many of you may feel… we are already a very open, welcoming and non-judgemental congregation – I totally agree. But I also know that we, and our community at large, would benefit by formally declaring this and becoming an Affirming Ministry within the United Church of Canada which is why I proposed this to the Board and they have agreed to pursue it.
If you are wondering what’s the difference between being a “Welcoming” church and an “Affirming” church? A good explanation from the Affirm United website can help:
Most congregations do their best to be welcoming, but being affirming goes deeper and is public, intentional, and explicit, in the commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Why did I make this request and ask that we start this process?
For several reasons.
One being the fact that I have never been part of a more welcoming church and community and want to help it continue our mission of being an open and evolving community, discovering spirituality and enriching life for all. We can share this mission with others and grow by helping to reach out to ALL members of our community. Especially people who have, or feel they have, no community like ours.
Just imagine life without the fellowship of your Port Wallis friends – no matter how small the connection – I cannot. People benefit in many ways by being part of Port Wallis and many more benefit by the work we do in our community here locally and even globally.
I have seen many people transformed by the people and work of Port Wallis since I started attending in 2001, including my own family. I started a Playgroup back then and this simple group saw many new members come into the church as part of our congregation. Members that are still part of the Port Wallis family today. Community outreach like this and a public declaration and statement of being a welcome and affirming church, would let the world know they are welcome here.
My other main reason for seeking out this program is our own family and experiences.
We have three kids, our oldest, who is now 21, our middle son, is 18 and just started at community college and our youngest is 17. For the last 6 years we have struggled with mental health issues with our youngest and last year, some of the answers to all the questions about what was happening were finally out in the open thanks to help from school, teachers and our health team from the IWK.
In May 2016, our daughter finally broke through her wall and shared with us how she really felt and what was happening. She was transgender. This means though she was born with the body of a girl, she identifies as a boy. All the struggles finally made sense. But most importantly our child finally trusted us with this information and we welcomed that fully. That revelation changed our lives.
Last year she officially transitioned from being Jane to John**. We no longer say Jane or she, but John and “he” is our son.
Once John opened up to us, the lines of communication opened up and it’s like we have our child back that we lost several years ago. I will tell you I have had more conversations with my kid in the last year than the last 6 years. He is happier, he smiles, he laughs, his brothers talk to him and hang out. John comes out of his room when others come over for dinner. He comes out of his room period. He sits down and plays cards with his brother and his friends. He has gotten out of the house with friends, gone shopping for clothes with a smile on his face not dread and even asked to go buy clothes! We are so grateful to have him back in our lives, living. All it took was openness, acceptance and welcoming him.
Now that we knowJohn’s reason behind the years of struggle and hiding from us his true feelings, he is ready to live – and that was not always the case – but now he is okay to be with people and experience the joys of life, even thinking of the future. And so are we.
As a Mom with a Transgender son, I now see things a little different in the world than I did before. What may have seemed like no big deal prior to this change, I now see through John’s eyes.
One thing I will tell you about our journey so far, is that the world is indeed a great place filled with beautiful people who are supportive. But not everyone knows this or experiences this, and I recognize how blessed we are.
I have also met several of John’s friends, our own family members, other parents at group meetings and events, people who are part of the LGBTQ community and other groups, who are not as lucky as our family. Not everyone is as open and welcoming as we are and it can be heartbreaking to see and hear these stories.
The more we can ensure people in our communities know and understand there are places like Port Wallis that will welcome people of all genders, sexual orientation, cultures, abilities, races and even religions, the more a community feels affirmed this is indeed the case.
Just because someone does not fit what the mainstream may see as the norm, does not mean it is wrong. For people like my son John, their main goal is to simply live a normal life.
I realize this move and the affirming process is something that can potentially upset some people in our congregation, for a variety of reasons. I get that. But I invite you to be party of this journey, whether as a member of the committee, or participating in some of the events and steps we take along the way. All I ask is that you be open to hearing about what it means to be affirming and welcoming to all. To listen to new ideas, new information and new people during this process. You will be amazed a how you can transform someone’s life by welcoming them.
The following words are from a hymn, we have sung here at Port Wallis, words I believe can change lives…
Turn Wounds into Blessings,
To Walk Beyond the Boundaries,
and Open the Doors to a World that Colours Outside the Lines.”
There are people on the other side of our doors who would love to come in, they just do not know where the door is, not yet anyhow. We can change that, together.
Please feel free ask me any questions, to join our committee or if you want to have a private conversation reach out to the office and Cheryl, our secretary, will get you in touch with me.
Thank you and God Bless.
** Our kids names have been changed tor protect their privacy.