More than six months after St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe publicly announced its openness to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, not much has changed.
It became the first United Church in Central Alberta and the first rural Alberta church to become an Affirming Ministry, one that supports and accepts all sexual orientations and performs same-gender weddings. The Affirming Ministry program started in 1992 and in 2006, the United Church of Canada officially endorsed it and encouraged ministries to participate.
Rev. Ross Smillie said the reaction to this decision has been quiet, which is a positive sign.
“We have received a lot of positive response from people,” said Smillie. “There is a number of people in the community who have said they really admire what we did.”
Even some junior high students dropped by the church one day and said they valued and appreciated having a church in the community come out and be supportive.
“Partly we felt there needed to be a church in Lacombe do this, we didn’t realize we were the first one in Central Alberta,” said Smillie.
“After, we realized we were the first ones in rural Alberta. We weren’t really trying to do anything beyond Lacombe and Central Alberta.”
Marg Linklater, a member of the congregation, has two gay children and said life has gone on since the affirming process was completed.
“You just have to promote awareness and try to extend a welcoming hand in the church and outside of the church,” said Linklater.
Smillie said the key issue the church has had to deal with is whether homosexuality is approached as a sexual issue or as a minority issue.
“We recognize and respect it as a minority,” said Smillie. “That’s what we try to be clear about, is we’re supportive of people who are in a fairly misunderstood minority group.”
It’s not just one minority group either, as transgender people are also accepted.
The congregation was overwhelmingly supportive with 85 per cent voting in favour of becoming an affirming ministry. The original vote to take the step took place in November 2011, but it wasn’t until Sept. 23, 2012, when St. Andrew’s was presented with a charter from the national Affirm Untied organization.
Smillie said this is not the end of the process, but more the beginning. The decision is a commitment to engage minorities of various kinds — not just sexual minorities, but those who may be excluded from a community in any way.