Northern Alberta church celebrates commitment to LGBTQ+ community

Rev. Gord Waldie was happy to see the affirming ministry conversation surface at St. Paul's United Church in Grande Prairie.  (Luke Ettinger/CBC - image credit)
Rev. Gord Waldie was happy to see the affirming ministry conversation surface at St. Paul's United Church in Grande Prairie. (Luke Ettinger/CBC - image credit)

A Peace Country congregation is celebrating pride in its pews.

St. Paul's United Church in Grande Prairie is one of a dozen ministries across Canada receiving Affirm United membership during Pride Month.

The church will officially become an Affirm United member on Sunday. Some of the other congregations becoming Affirm United members in June are in Whitehorse, Regina, Toronto and Upper Tantallon, N.S.

Since 1992, Affirm United has partnered with the United Church of Canada to help congregations become more inclusive for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

More than 300 local churches, colleges, assisted living homes and other ministries are part of Affirm United.

St. Paul's is the first affirming ministry in the Peace Country of northwestern Alberta. In March, at least 75 per cent of the 125-family congregation voted in favour of the Affirm United membership.

Safety and spirituality

Becoming an affirming ministry is about creating a safe space for everyone, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, said Karen Scott, chair of the St. Paul's United Church council.

"I want for them to feel safe and connected and able to explore a spiritual side to themselves if that's what they want," she said. "It's important that we ensure that people are allowed to be who they are."

Scott said work toward inclusion also happens outside of Sunday service. She attends the annual Grande Prairie Pride events on behalf of St. Paul's — often to the surprise of attendees.

"And people over and over again have come up and said, 'Wow, you're a church, you're here? I'm amazed,'" she said.

The process at St. Paul's was initiated in 2020, Scott said.

On the road to becoming an affirming ministry, St. Paul's hosted an affirming education week in collaboration with groups that support the LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities.

And the work won't stop with official membership in Affirm United. The affirming ministry committee has transitioned to become the social justice committee which will continue to organize events and work toward inclusion.

Luke Ettinger/CBC
Luke Ettinger/CBC

Rev. Gord Waldie said he was happy to see the affirming ministry conversation surface, but adds it was important that the decision came from the congregation.

"I intentionally didn't take a really active role in that," Waldie said.

"It needed to be something that so that if there were people on either side who had strong concerns, they could feel comfortable coming to me."

Waldie said Affirm United also pushes for action beyond LGBTQ+ issues including truth and reconciliation.

"The church, [universally], has a history of finding ways to shut people out or to sort of put people into categories and say, you're good, you're not, you're welcome, you're not," he said.

Luke Ettinger/CBC
Luke Ettinger/CBC

Susan K Thomson is a congregant and ally who helped Scott lead the local Affirm United campaign. She said being an affirming ministry is about ensuring everyone feels like they are full members of the congregation.

"It allows people of the LGBTQ community to go, hey, I can go to church there and nobody's going to look down on me and nobody's going to shun me," Thomson said.

Thomson's sentiment is echoed by the minister.

"It means whoever you are, if you want to read scripture on a Sunday morning, you can read scripture on a Sunday morning," Waldie said.