Thursday, March 8, 2018

On Being Wild

Do you remember the TV show, Gilmore Girls? Before a year and a half ago, I wouldn't say that I did. The show was on from 2000 to 2007 - the precise time I was in the midst of losing my mind trying to keep between two and four little humans alive and somewhat healthy. I had two boys, aged two and under, when the show started. There were four children (another boy and then a girl), between the ages of nine and three by the time the show ended. When I sat down to watch TV in those years, it needed to be the type of show that did not require any sort of maintenance of keeping up with story lines. Law & Order and Survivor were my kind of shows back then.

2012. Or was it 2013?
Fast forward a decade and life has gotten somewhat easier in that keeping the children alive no longer requires vigilant monitoring of their every move. Now I sit in wait, cell phone at hand, ready to help solve transportation issues, giving meal suggestions and taking part in discussions on whether or not the unnaturally bent finger requires a trip to the ER or not. And I can watch TV again. Or rather, I can partake in the joy that is known as Netflix.

I am one of those people who like to start things at the beginning. My dear spouse can just pick up watching TV shows wherever they happen to be in a series. I cannot. I need to start at the beginning. I'm like that with book series too. So, Netflix is totally my jam. I've watched more than few entire series of shows while putting in time in my sewing room. Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Shameless, Grace & Frankie, 13 Reasons Why and, not only Gilmore Girls but also Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

If you have watched the follow up season to the Gilmore Girls, and I am, in no way, recommending that you do (it was a disappointing reincarnation of the TV show - as I suppose most reincarnations are - and I know some of you will give me grief over this but, you have to admit, I'm not wrong), you will know that the mom, Lorelai, at one point has an existential crisis and decides that she needs to be off by herself for awhile. Her solution is to go be wild. Not wild, as in 'out of control' but be Wild, as in follow in the footsteps of Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) and wrote a book about her experience.

Before I watched that episode, I had a vague memory of the movie of the same name coming out starring Reese Witherspoon but had had no interest in seeing it for some odd reason as I normally quite enjoy Reese Witherspoon's movies. A memory that stuck with me from Lorelai trying to be Wild was that an important component of the being Wild was that one had to throw their hiking boot over a cliff. Which struck me as odd. I didn't get the joke. I didn't know the inside story, which obviously was nagging at me at some subconscious level over this past year. When I sat down to select books to read for my 2018 26 books in 52 weeks challenge,  something triggered in a small recess of my brain and I included Strayed's memoir of her hiking the PCT.

Not only did I find out about the boot throwing, I found out all about it on page one. And despite having that itch immediately scratched, I couldn't put the book down. I don't normally enjoy these types of memoirs but Cheryl Strayed is a talented author who knows how to carry a narrative. The book is filled with facts about the PCT and the mountains the Trail goes up and over that I never knew I would care to know about but am now glad that I do. She shares details of her past life that are neither flattering or inspiring all the while she is managing to hike some 1100 miles with a ginormously heavy pack on her back.

I found Cheryl's book to be quite endearing. I kinda sorta (and know that I never will) want to hike out in wilderness as she did, carrying all that I need on my back. I'm happy that she did it so I can know, in some sense, what it might be like. I understand some of Cheryl's pain of having lost a mom too soon but I don't know how to feel about the decisions she made in her early adult years. I appreciated how open she was about her fears, her struggles, her selfishness, her uncertainties, her anger. I also appreciated journeying with her as she began to heal from the inside out, as she received generosity from nearly every person she met along the PCT, as she learned more about who she is and how she wanted to be in the world once she arrived at the end of the 1100 miles.

I loved this book. If you want to borrow, just ask. What's next on my list? Something TOTALLY different...A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I kid you not.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Celebrating 10 Years of Affirming Ministry

The Annual General Meeting of Symons Valley United Church takes place on the last Sunday of February. This year's AGM marked the 10th anniversary of SVUC becoming an affirming congregation. To be an affirming congregation in the United Church of Canada means that there is full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. In order to become an affirming congregation, a congregation needs to go through an intentional discernment process and then hold a vote at a congregational meeting. More information about the process can be found at the Affirm United website.

Symons Valley United Church also moved into a new building, in a new community ten years ago. As several new communities build up around us, we have many newcomers attending worship services and programs. Over these past few years, we have had many folks join the congregation and so when the plans for recognizing the 10th anniversary of becoming affirming were being made, it was realized that we should recall some of the history of what led the congregation to begin the discernment process. Alice, longtime member of the congregation who participated in that discernment, gave an oral history via recorded video of the events leading up to the affirming vote. Alice recalled how the congregation felt strongly that God's call to love all people was not limited in any way. She also spoke about how the process to become affirming resulted in a deeper commitment to be an open and loving community especially in light of moving locations and opening their doors to the new residents moving into the surrounding communities. Here is the Statement of Affirmation that now hangs at the front entrance of the church building:
We believe that all people are sacred in the eyes of God, welcome at God's table, and entitled to full and equal participation in the life of the church.                              We recognize that congregations have historically condemned and excluded some persons and groups of persons through active effort or complicit silence.             In response to our understanding of Christ's invitation to the table, we declare that we will: continue to be open and affirming of all, regardless of age; ethnic, cultural or spiritual background; sexual orientation, gender identity; family composition; or physical or mental capability, and we will work to live out diversity and justice through our actions and our witness in the world.
Shari D followed the history recounted by Alice. Shari's story with Symons Valley began nearly four years ago. When she and her husband returned to Canada with their two children after a few years of study in California, they were looking for a church that was open and inclusive to all. They found Symons Valley by searching for 'gay-friendly churches' in Calgary. When they entered SVUC for the first time, they had a good feeling about the congregation when they saw the rainbow hangings that greet everyone at the front door. Shari spoke about how she appreciated the welcoming nature of the people of the congregation. Over time, as they got to know people, Shari noticed that same-sex couples were treated just as she and her husband were treated.

The third person to speak in our celebration was Letitia. Letitia and her partner Shauna began attending SVUC soon after Shari. Letitia first became connected to the congregation through our annual dinner theatre production - she volunteered to do hair for the production. One of the performance days, she noticed the rainbow candle on the communion table (we store it backstage during the week). She asked, 'does that mean what I think it does?' She was told that it did. When she mentioned that her partner was a female, the response was, 'Oh? Is she coming to the play?' With that, she and Shauna decided to try coming one Sunday. With her Catholic upbringing, Letitia mentioned that she was not certain how she and Shauna would be received but they came anyway. She recalled being somewhat shocked at how the fact that she and Shauna were not made to feel uncomfortable because they were a couple. And so they came back the next Sunday. And have been coming ever since. Both Letitia and Shauna are now active and vital participants in congregational life, including singing in the choir. We are a more full and loving community of faith because of them.

I began serving Symons Valley United Church nearly seven years ago. There have been many moments over these years in which I have been so proud to walk this journey of faith alongside the many good folks of Symons Valley UC but never more so than during this celebration of being an affirming congregation in the United Church. Only about 5% of congregations in the United Church are affirming despite the fact that it has been thirty years since the denomination voted to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian clergy. Here in Calgary, just over half of the congregations in the city limits are now affirming. There is still a lot of work to do in this world of ours which still has pockets of ignorance and bigotry regarding LGTBQ+ issues and human rights. God, Jesus and the Bible are still being used to promote hate and violence against the LGTBQ+ community. While we cannot change everyone's understanding and point of view, we can be the change we want too see in the world. I see God's love being poured out by the faithful folks of SVUC and celebrate that they made a decision ten years ago that declares for all who ventures in that God loves them regardless of their shape, size, colour or who it is that loves them or who it is that they love. Full stop.