File photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff

Local church embraces LGBTQ community

Gaetz Memorial United Church exploring becoming an official Affirming Congregation.

Gaetz United Memorial Church is working towards becoming an official LGBTQ-inclusive congregation.

The church has a long history of welcoming people from all walks of life in Central Alberta.

For the past two years, the church on Ross Street downtown has hosted a Pride Worship Service as part of Central Alberta Pride. Same-gendered marriages have been performed there for more than a decade.

Being designated as an Affirming Congregation is seen as a way to reinforce the church’s message of inclusiveness.

Shari Hanson, chair of the church’s affirming committee, said doing something to further show the church’s inclusiveness arose out of the Orlando shooting last June that saw 49 people shot and killed and more than 50 wounded at a gay nightclub.

That hate crime led her and other church members to reflect on the importance of having safe places in communities, “particularly safe places to worship,” she said.

“The (affirming) process is really discerning our understanding of how we serve that way as a church.”

Hanson said a couple of years ago the church added the word “inclusive” to its vision statement to signal its openness.

“In a lot of ways we assumed we were kind of beyond this. But then we started to recognize that inclusive can mean different things to different people.”

In the coming year, Gaetz United is planning to talk about LGBTQ issues and what inclusiveness means in discussion groups, bible studies, Sunday school and other events. At the end of the process the congregation holds a vote and 75 per cent must be in favour of becoming an Affirming Congregation for it to go ahead.

In 2011, St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe became an Affirming Congregation.

The process is designed by Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble, a justice-oriented organization within the church that works for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Gaetz Memorial Rev. Jeff Rock said the United Church of Canada has been ordaining openly gay and lesbian people since 1988 and later was one of the biggest advocates for same-gendered marriage.

“It was seen very much as a faith and Scripture-oriented decision,” not as a move away from Scripture, he said.

Kicking off the affirmation initiative is a special reading at 7 p.m. this Sunday of Jonathan Brower’s play “oblivion,” a semi-autobiographical work portraying the complexities around faith and sexual orientation. Tickets cost $10 and are available at the door at the church at 4758 Ross Street.

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