Kamloops United Church has the distinction of being one of the first officially Affirming congregations in Canada, and has been for almost twenty-five years. (Since May 12,1996.)
Nationally, as early as the 1970s, lesbian and gay church members began to form groups for mutual support. In 1980, a study was produced, In God’s Image…Male and Female : A Study on Human Sexuality that provided education on human sexuality, sexual orientation, and the ordination and commissioning of declared homosexual people. Over the next decade there were more groups formed, more study, and in 1988 General Council 32 declared that “all people, regardless of sexual orientation are declared welcome as full members, and …eligible for ordered ministry.”
A fledgling Affirm group was formed in 1982; in 1990 Affirm was invited into official dialogue with the United Church’s General Council Executive, and a year later the Affirming congregations’ network was established. In 1994 Affirm and Friends of Affirm merged to become Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble.
At Kamloops United, a parallel history was taking place. In the early eighties, Rev. Don Robertson invited a gay man and a lesbian to share their stories with a gathering of the KUC congregation. Over the next several years, issues of sexuality, homosexuality and homophobia were explored and discussed in meetings of various KUC Council committees. Our call to be an inclusive people was integrated into worship and, under the leadership of Rev. Allan Richards and Rev. Don Waldon, there were two congregation gatherings around the issue of inclusion and welcoming of gays and lesbians. There was overwhelming support for a vote taken regarding “being an Inclusive Congregation”.
In 1992, following a local UCC workshop on issues of human sexuality arising from the most recent UCC General Council, a group formed, calling themselves “Friends of Affirm”. A letter to the KUC Council, dated December 1992, and signed by Dency McCalla, asks that serious consideration be given to offering same gender covenanting services at KUC.
In early 1995 a Steering Committee was being formed, and in September the group was meeting frequently and had made the decision to join Affirm. That fall, a bulletin notice to the congregation stated, “… At KUC we have a Mission Statement, part of which states ‘to be among all people fostering loving relationships’. We need to address the reality of the situation and be more sharply aware that at every gathering homosexual people are present. They are unidentified and frightened to reveal their presence because of the hurt caused by the careless use of words and actions…Our hope is that KUC will indeed become a welcoming, affirming congregation for all people and thus help us to live out our Mission Statement, ‘To be among all people fostering loving relationships with God, with Jesus Christ and with each other’. Signed, the Steering Committee: Dency McCalla, Martha Ashbaugh, Patricia McColl, Jenny Carter, Betty DeBeck, Betty Tennant, Paul Newman, Gale Glover, Cheryl Lyall, Liz Barlow, Bev Knowles”. Between September of 1995 and March of 1996, the congregation had the opportunity to view several videos and participate in workshops and discussions.
By March 4, the Steering Committee was ready to take a motion to the Spring Congregational meeting: to become an Affirming Congregation, and to change our Mission Statement. On May 12, 1996 the Annual General Meeting of KUC voted in favour of adding the following to our Mission Statement, in perpetuity. ‘Kamloops United Church welcomes and embraces all persons who seek to live faithfully, regardless of sexual orientation, age, gender, racial or ethnic background, and affirm that all are welcome to become full participants in the life, membership and leadership of this church.’
For twenty plus years, Kamloops United Church has been officially a member of Affirm United.
So what does that mean?
Affirm United is a justice-oriented organization of people in the United Church that works for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations, and gender identities. The Affirming Ministries program is a network of congregations and ministries that declare themselves to be fully inclusive …and …each ministry is expected to take action.
KUC has an obligation to live out our commitment as an Affirming Ministry. Affirm United recommends the PIE principle (“public, intentional, explicit“): that we be PUBLIC, that people who come to KUC or hear about our ministry will know that we are an Affirming congregation. We should have our statements and Affirming symbols on our website, print material and signs. We must be INTENTIONAL…none of this good stuff happens by accident so we stay mindful of incorporating Affirming messages into our services, seeking partnerships with other organizations, and hosting studies and workshops. And we need to be EXPLICIT. It needs to be clear how we can be fully inclusive, moving beyond tolerance into celebration, and communicating all of this to our KUC community and to the broader public.
Being public, intentional and explicit about our commitment to being Affirming is a continuing process.
It was an honour for KUC to be asked in June 2016 to accommodate the multi-faith vigil following the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. On a Thursday evening our sanctuary was filled beyond capacity by a diverse group of Kamloops community members coming together in solidarity with the traumatized LGBTQ community. Since then, we have been able to make meeting room space available to the Kamloops Pride organization for their regular board meetings.
A banner adorned with the beautiful Affirm United symbol often hangs on the front corner of our building. A photo of that banner appeared in Kamloops This Week alongside a column about KUC and how we are Affirming.
Each September, KUC folk march on campus with our banner in the Thompson Rivers University Student Union Pride parade, and we stay on at the “tabling” to chat with students and faculty of TRU.
In August of 2017, a large and colourful contingent of KUC people marched in the first annual Kamloops Pride parade, and were active in support of Kamloops Pride leading up to the event. In the autumn of 2017, allies from KUC and other churches gathered under the leadership of Allison Rennie to learn more about what it means to be Affirming, and about some of the cultural and national UCC history leading up to the present. There is momentum, and there is still real need for all of us to continue to seek ways that KUC can live out our Affirming commitment.