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From Peter

Good Afternoon... My name is Peter. I am a child of God. God formed my inward parts and knit me in my mother's womb. I praise God for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Before I was born my story was written by my creator who knows my heart, my thoughts my soul.

I was born in Haileybury at Misericordia Hospital, grew up in Elliot lake and moved to North Bay in my early twenties. I have an adult son and work in the medical field for 30 years so far. I was Roman Catholic but returned to my roots in the United Church. My community of faith is St.Andrews U/C North Bay where I am chair of the Inclusivity Committee, Member of Church Council, representative on North Bay Presbytery and a part of the Affirming Discernment Committee for Manitou Conference.

colourful balls of yarn

I am also gay.

It took me a long time to be able to come to terms with who I was.

Today I am in very loving relationship with my partner of ten years.

One of my favorite children's hymns was "Jesus loves me".

Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so Little ones to him belong They are weak but he is strong

Yes Jesus loves me Oh, yes Jesus loves me Yes Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so

It is likely one of the first songs most of us learned in Sunday School. I can still picture the smiles on tiny faces around me as we sang it for the grownups at a church concert. I remember singing it too myself when I was sad or afraid. It was comforting like a warm blanket or a mothers hug.

As a teenager some of the lyrics began to haunt me as I struggled with my inner feelings and emotions. I can still see the face of the minister during his sermon standing in front of the congregation holding up the bible and in a very fire and brimstone tone saying that homosexuality was a sin the bible tells us so. He then started to quote various scriptures to nail the case shut that in my heart said I was going straight to hell. I felt that the church of Mother and Grandmother no longer spoke to me.

Ironically the lyrics of "Jesus loves Me" first appeared as a poem in a novel by Susan Warner called "Say and Seal" in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child. However there was no comforting my inner child... my soul was dead the bible told me so.

The sad thing is that for years I allowed those words to rob me of an open and honest relationship with God and those around me. I denied my feelings and became what I thought society wanted. I lived in a closet of guilt and shame... married had a son and lived in a house with a white picket fence. I became Catholic, went to church every Sunday and had the priest over for dinner every couple of months.

It wasn't until I woke up morning and realized a part of me was dying. It was like a child crying in the dark saying help me... help me. I knew then that it was now or never, live or die.

This is not my story alone. It is the story of many LGBTQ in the community. Our neighbours, friends, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. On Tuesday June 14, 2016, I was a part of a walk to show support for the victims of the Orlando shooting. There was around 350-400 people made up of the LGBTQ community and Allies which began at North Bay City Hall and proceeded to St. Andrew's United Church. Upon arriving at the church around half entered inside. A few told me that did feel safe or welcome in a church... how sad. Nobody should feel uncomfortable entering a church.

I know personally how hard it is to find a safe place to worship, pray and feel a part of a community of faith. I am very lucky that I belong to a church that is Affirming. I know that when I enter the doors I am welcomed by a group of people who love and respect me. I know that I can express myself in the context of being a gay man of faith. They celebrate with me and my partner the journeys of life the same as any other couple in a church community. They give us support when we need a hug or reassurance during hard times. I am truly blessed.

I know once I step outside the walls of St. Andrews United Church to go to another United Church or to attend a Conference function I have to be careful as I may not be accepted as I am. There have been many times during our travels we have attended other churches although they are welcoming you can feel the tension in the air. This is an opportunity for change. A chance for open and honest dialogue.

Today we live in a world where some church believers spew hate out on street corners all over North America and countries like Chechnya were LGBTQ persons are being sent to modern day concentration camps.

What's so important about being an Affirming Conference? you might ask. Of course there are many answers, one for every LGBTQ person who's ever stepped foot in a church, one for every LGBTQ person who has had an unwelcome experience at church and one for every LGBTQ person who worships in the pews.

I believe not only the United Church but all churches need to acknowledge that they have not always been safe places for the LGBTQ & 2 Spirited clergy and members.

To be an Affirming Conference to me is to declare publicly our commitment to creating a safe, inclusive and nurturing community where all people are welcome and to take part in every aspect of our church life including membership and leadership. It is an ongoing process of education on inclusion and support for all.

Does it make us the Gay Conference? it makes us the church for all peoples. Jesus hung out with those considered the outcasts of society. He was creating a model of how to build his church. He taught and led as a living example of the "will of God". Society sees people according to stereotypes. Jesus, however sees us as individuals. Each one of us is a creation of God.

We are the church... each and every one of us. Look around and see the diversity that exists. Let take time right now to acknowledge our brothers and sisters with a greeting...

Desmond Tutu said that "Each of us carries a piece of God's heart within us and when we love one another, the pieces of God's heart are made whole". As a Conference we have the opportunity to put those pieces together this weekend.

Jesus not only loves you.... Jesus loves me... this I know.

Thank you. •

With thanks to Peter. Reprinted with permission.

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