AN OPEN LETTER TO RESPOND TO THE CONCERN : “Are we asking LGBTQ2+ people to do this apology project?”
Dear United Church,
When I first received the news that I would be the Project Coordinator of Iridesce, a number of my peers conveyed this concern to me:
“Are we asking LGBTQ2+ people to do the work of this Project, which may effectively be an apology… to themselves?”
From this valid question, I decided to work seriously to address this concern and this perception in concrete and positive ways, and in ways that would be of good service to our church. After conversations and reflection, here are the ways Iridesce seeks to help the church hold its "ownership" of this Project in congregations, and not strictly with LGBTQ2+ people and allies.
First, I am very grateful for my time spent at Kahnawake United Church (in the All Native Circle Conference). In particular, I attended an event in 2015 called "Settler Mentalities". At this day-workshop, we learned that "Aboriginal Issues" are more accurately considered as "Settler Issues" or "issues of colonialism". In other words, values and mindsets imported by European settlers are what did (and do) harm to the First Nations Peoples here on the original Turtle Island. This workshop also identified that it is us--the descendants of settlers and those who continue to benefit from colonialism--who need to do the hard work of learning, acknowledging and making amends with Aboriginal Peoples and with our relationships with God. By listening to Aboriginal perspectives, the issues were more accurately placed with the group that needed to address their ways.
From this inspiration, Iridesce has considered the possibility that "the Issue" concerning LGBTQ2+ people in the United Church, is less about 'gender and sexuality' and more about how some members of the church dealt with difference and with conflict through the 1988 period and beyond. By reframing who "owns" the issue… we turn the Project around, and in turn offer the potential for some real growth in our communities.
To reach the larger church, Iridesce is intentionally visiting communities of faith across the country so a broad spectrum of people and communities can participate. Visits focus on workshops that are created in collaboration with local church groups and leadership, asking them to reflect upon their church culture, history and needs of each community. This way of working encourages reflection, discernment, engagement and ownership at the community level.
In workshops, there will be an intentional and balanced focus on "acknowledgement" and on "lament"… thus providing opportunities for the church to acknowledge its possible role in injustices and mistreatment of LGBTQ2+ persons (their friends, family and allies) around 1988 and beyond.
The United Church at General Council 42 voted to support this Project. It chose to partner with Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble, which can be considered wise because of the connections and expertise that Affirm United holds in topics around the intersection of LGTBQ2+ issues, Christian faith, and the United Church. Affirm has been of service to the United Church for many years. This partnership of "Iridesce" seems well-timed, particularly because Affirm United has its roots in the 1988 decision. I cannot imagine how it could have hurt if a partnership with Affirm United was not requested.
Of course, Iridesce encourages LGBTQ2+ people to participate. The project is committed to reducing vulnerability and addressing potential retraumatization of LGBTQ2+ persons by reaching people in "as safe, comfortable and familiar environment as possible". Together we, (myself with ministers who are members of Affirm United), have developed good approaches for listening and engaging in caring one-on-one conversations. By visiting, Iridesce is able to speak with people in their own hometowns, and people are able to have the ongoing support and pastoral resources at their home congregations.
As a final point, the issues raised about ownership of Iridesce: The Living Apology Project is a good one. It speaks to the complexity of the topic, the readiness of some people to partner together, and of the inner diversity across all communities of our church. Much of this Project is about softening hearts, creating trust and dispelling fears... for LGBTQ2+ persons in our church (fear of vulnerability, for example) and of regular church-goers (fear conflict, for example).
As one person, myself —the Coordinator of this Project—I am ready to walk in friendship and faith with our church on this important project. Iridesce is here to listen openly, share and facilitate our conversations mindfully and faithfully.
I welcome and encourage further dialogue on this important topic…
Coordinator of Iridesce: The Living Apology Project
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