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.