A group at St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe is opening its doors to the community to offer support for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, their families and friends.
In 2006, the church started Pathways for people in the congregation who wanted to talk about gender and homosexuality.
Since then the church has offered discussion and even a movie night, showcasing a film called For the Bible Tells Me So, to encourage discussion on homosexuality.
More recently members of Pathways have reached out to the community of Lacombe by putting information in school libraries, donating books to school counsellors and publicizing the time and dates of their meetings so others in Lacombe can attend.
Rev. Ross Smillie, who is the minister at St. Andrew’s, said they have tried to emphasize that the meetings are a safe non-judgmental place where people can come and not feel that their trust is violated.
Anneke Kassies, who is the chair of Pathways, said what is said in the group stays in the group.
People’s identities remain confidential as well.
Smillie said the group has been about friendship, but also admiration for people.
“It takes a lot of courage to expose yourself in this way. I find it’s inspiring too.”
The group of eight to 15 people meets once a month to talk about issues related to sexual orientation or gender.
For the first part of the meeting organizers plan how they can help others in the community, with discussion taking place during the second half. People share their stories or have a discussion about a clip from a movie or book.
Jackie, who asked that her last name not be used, joined the group with her partner Monica a little over a year ago.
“For me it’s having that feeling of being accepted.
“Some people tolerate you being gay, but in this group there are no judgments. People accept you for who you are.”
She said it has meant that she has had more confidence in the community to tell people she is a lesbian. Her partner Monica summed up the group in one word — community.
Smillie said the church was talking about homosexuality when it became legal to perform gay and lesbian marriages in Alberta a few years ago.
He said church leaders became aware that there were people in the congregation who were gay and lesbian, or who had friends and relatives who were, and they’d never talked to each other before and so the group got started.
He said Pathways began to reach out to the community more because there was an understanding that young people who are gay or lesbian often feel alienated and their families can have challenges understanding their lifestyle. He said the church wants to be a resource to anyone struggling with sexual or gender issues.
For more information about Pathways go to www.lacombeunitedchurch.ca/ministries/pathways.html or phone Ross at 403-782-3148 or Marg at 403-782-1887.