On Sunday, June 25 I’ll be marching with the Presbyterian contingent in Toronto’s Pride Parade.
Again this year I will take part as an individual Presbyterian minister, not representing Glenview. But anyone from Glenview who would like to come along is welcome. Last year two members were there with Janet and me. This year Janet won’t be able to march. She has a cast on her foot. It would be great to have someone take her place.
I won’t be there with the blessing of our Session. I would never claim to represent the whole congregation. But I believe there are many at Glenview who stand with me, even if they don’t march with me, for hospitality and justice for all in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). I believe we are a hospitable and just congregation. I hope, one day, we will take the next step and declare that to the PCC and the world. Even if we have to do that before the PCC does.
I know of three congregations that have already done that. You won’t hear about them through official PCC channels. They’re not part of the PCC post-General Assembly buzz. That’s all about the people who are trying to scare us all by threatening to walk away if the PCC takes a progressive, inclusive course.
A Presbyterian congregation in Waterloo ON adopted this “Statement of Welcome”:
As an inclusive and affirming congregation, we honour the diversity of God’s creation.
Our community is richer when we include people of all ages, gender identities, racial and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, abilities, economic circumstances and family configurations.
We seek to provide a safe space so that each person can bring every aspect of their whole self into participation within this congregation.
We invite all to join into the life, leadership, witness and ministry of Knox Waterloo.
Knox is a healthy, growing congregation.
St. Andrew’s in Kitchener is one of the largest and most active congregations in the PCC. You’ll read these words, right up front on their website.
St. Andrew’s is a welcoming and affirming congregation. You are welcome here regardless of your background, your race, gender, sexual orientation, or financial status. We welcome you and we affirm and value each person in all of our human diversity. We are all children of God.
Earlier this year the congregation of Knox Church in Calgary voted unanimously to declare their church inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ persons. They took this step after a long process of study and conversation, following a model from the United Church. The CBC interviewed their minister about this decision, which takes the congregation out of step with most other Presbyterian churches in Canada.
Why do congregations decide to declare their churches open to all? Why can’t they just quietly absorb any members who might be different from the majority, and avoid making a fuss? Why risk trouble?
Consider this: If your gay or lesbian neighbour, co-worker, son or daughter wanted to come to church, would they feel welcome at Glenview? What if they wore rainbow jewellery? What if they wanted to bring their partner? How would you introduce them to your Glenview friends at coffee hour?
If they came on their own, how would they know they were welcome at Glenview? Most LGBTQ+ people can’t assume they’ll be welcome in a church. That’s especially true for younger people. Many have had very hurtful experiences in faith communities.
Remember this: Within the PCC there are many gifted leaders—ministers, elders, musicians, teachers, youth leaders—who have to hide who they really are. Many have left PCC congregations. Some find places of welcome. Many give up on church. The PCC has lost too many ministers. We rarely hear about them leaving till they’re gone.
My experience working and worshiping all over the United Church of Canada, and visiting Presbyterian churches in the U.S., is that congregations grow and flourish when people outside know everyone is welcome inside. Welcome, just as they are. Accepted for who they are. Yes, some who can’t accept that leave their congregations. That’s their right.
The church folk who join in Pride Parades all across Canada witness to the truth that many Christians welcome and accept everyone as visitors, members, and leaders. People who might not think of the church as a place for them take notice. I was overwhelmed by the welcome in last year’s parade. I was carrying the banner for the Presbyterian group, so many people saw me first as we marched past.
After this year’s General Assembly there’s at least another year of study for the PCC. I hope we can make good use of that time. Maybe we’ll come to some of our own conclusions, and join with other congregations in stepping ahead of the denomination.
That’s my hope. But I’m just one voice at Glenview. I know my voice has some weight to it, but I know I'm not the church, and the church isn't mine. I march as a Presbyterian. I hope, not alone.