Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — Trinity United Church has a special doors open this Sunday, June 10.
It’s not unusual for the church to open its doors; in fact last Sunday they hosted Royal Canadian Legion members for their annual spring/summer/June 6 D-Day grave decoration ceremony.
But this Sunday will be a little bit different.
Actually quite a lot.
While the United Church of Canada has long been open to everyone, as of June 10 it will be officially more open to “all.”
A ceremony during the service will mark its membership in Affirm United.
The independent association of United Churches is a group of churches that officially welcomes everyone, including and especially the LGBQT+ community.
“We’re not becoming a gay church,” says Pastor Rev. Allan Lynk. “Just officially more welcoming to all.”
That means, according to the Affirm United website: “Working for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the United Church of Canada and in society.
“Affirm United Ensemble is a justice-oriented organization of people in The United Church of Canada. Membership is open to all those who support our work, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. We draw our vision from our faith tradition: Affirm United Ensemble is a voice and a support for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We draw strength and hope from Biblical stories of liberation; from the prophetic call to live justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God; and from Jesus’ witness to God’s inclusive love.”
According to Lynk, the popular pastor who initiated the move 30 months ago when he joined the struggling church, while it’s a big deal, it’s really not that different.
Aside from being more open and welcoming to gays, lesbians and trans people who may want to come to service occasionally or join the congregation, little more than some service language and music will change.
An outward sign will be Affirm United’s rainbow-inspired logo on the sign out front of the church, next to the United Church of Canada logo.
Ahead of this week’s ceremony, United Church of Canada moderator Rev. Jordan Cantwell, a lesbian minister, sent the church a letter of congratulations.
Church member Keith Cross, a member of the local church council that helped the congregation through the almost 18-month process, said they began exploring it in February 2017.
The church council endorsed a “task group” as a steering committee to investigate and they organized two information meetings for after church services last fall.
Each included guest speakers, including two gays at one and then another one with Rev. Sue Woods, pastor at the Bala/Port Carling United Church, and her lesbian wife Rev. Lou Woods.
The west Muskoka Lakes congregation was the first United Church in Muskoka to become an Affirm United member (#199).
Woods will actually help in the presentation of the certificate.
The Bracebridge United Church, which began the process a week after Gravenhurst, will again a week later receive their Affirm United certificate in a similar ceremony.
Cross says about 10 other churches are in the same process right now.
The Gravenhurst meetings were followed this past May by a vote of the entire 220 member, who Cross said endorsed it 98 per cent.
Of course there were some initial concerns and reservation, said Lynk, a retired padre with the Canadian Armed Forces.
The church has struggled with the divisive issue in the past, and at one time didn’t allow gay marriages within the church.
Cross said he even heard of “war stories” about people getting married on the church steps.
But once church members were assured that it was mostly about opening its doors more freely to all, they confirmed the decision and welcomed the idea with open arms.
Now gays and lesbians and members of the trans community can fee feel to come into the main street church on Muskoka Road to worship or become members without having to feel out of place.
“It’s a place where gays and struggling teens can feel safe.”
One of the first things Trinity United had to do to receive endorsement was to revisit its mission statement and its marriage, baptism and funeral statement.
Once that was done things moved fast for the church that dates back to 1872 before the 1925 “Church Union” in 1925 by some Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian members to form the United Church.
He said it’s not about bringing in new members to the church.
“This is not a social club.”
Lynk said he initiated the effort because “it’s the right thing to do.”
It’s a case of “justice.”
This will make Trinity United the first church in Gravenhurst to officially welcome LGBQT+ members, say Lynk, who during his seven years as a military minister presided over many same sex and trans marriages, where it’s Canadian law that he can do that.
It’s been something he’s interested in for 30 years, since his days pasturing in other churches across Ontario in communities like Brantford and Belleville, where he first convinced his church council to open its doors to the gay/lesbian community for their Sunday night worship.
He said he’s “very pleased” Trinity has come this far and he notes it happens during Pride month.
He said it’s “been a life privilege to do something” like this.
He said he’s always particularly glad when anyone wants to join this or any church and particularly to commit to their love life in public and have that union sanctified by a church.
And he looks forward to welcoming all to future services.
Starting Sunday, June 10, at 10:30 a.m.