By Donna Marchak
In a leap of faith by St. Andrew’s Regional Ministries and Calgary Presbytery, Affirming Connections was created earlier this year. Its mandate is ambitious – to establish a bridge between United Church Affirming Ministries in the Calgary region, and other faith communities (United Church and Ecumenical partners) who are interested in becoming Affirming, with individuals from the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Each Ministry will be asked to provide information on what their ‘Affirming Profile’ is, and what their strengths and needs may be. Affirming Connections will work with ministries to support their goals and to foster connections between other interested churches.
As the new Director of Affirming Connections, Pam Rocker has begun the process of determining the current state of Affirming Ministries by meeting with church leaders and individuals from those ministries, to determining their challenges and dreams. Affirming Churches are asked to complete a profile on the website: affirmingconnections.com. She hopes to form a network of support that will help every United Church in the Calgary area accomplish their plans for fully inclusive faith communities.
Joel Den Haan, Director of Regional Ministries at St. Andrew’s, noted that Calgary and Area has 15 Affirming Ministries, the largest number of Affirming Churches in Canada. This fact may come as a surprise to a few people. Affirming Ministries have to potential to advance missional plans with LGBTQ2S+ partners in many areas.
“The need for this kind of program was apparent in 2014-15 when the Regional Ministries, Calgary Presbytery and St. Andrew’s became involved. Funding for the Affirming Connections program and the position of a director was worked out last year. Many United Churches welcome new members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and want provide meaningful programs and services for youth, families and seniors,” said Joel Den Haan.
Pam Rocker has taken on these many challenges with enthusiasm and hope. She draws on her experiences in ministering and involvement with the LGBTQ2S+ communities in Alberta and across Canada. Previously, she furthered this ministry at Calgary’s Hillhurst United Church for eight years and chaired the Affirm United’s National board for many years.
“Affirming Connections will strengthen and amplify the LGBTQ2S+ community’s voice and actions in Calgary. We want there to be lots of options if you want to explore your spiritual yearning in community, and because of the United Church’s history of striving for social justice, we are uniquely positioned to be leaders in this work. We are forging new ground, and the process is an adventure. The potential is great. Being cohesive in this process is essential to supporting every church in reaching their potential, to impact our communities” said Pam Rocker.
First order of business for the Director is discovering the current needs of the Affirming ministries and LGTBQ2S+ initiatives in Calgary and area. Just as every ministry is unique, so will the ways the Affirming Connections can assist each one. Through this sharing of information and needs, affirming faith ministries will support one another to be accessible and relevant.
“We will work toward opening dialogue with all of those involved in Affirming Ministries, but also those who would never dare to come to church because of deep wounds. Religious attacks have become synonymous with ‘church’ but this doesn’t have to be the case. The needs of LGTBQ2S+ folks will be prioritized, both those inside and outside of our churches. We want to provide a sincere welcome to everyone and know what it means to be truly inclusive. It’s important to open ourselves to others in empathy and kindness,” she said.
Pam Rocker will be reaching out to existing LGBTQ2S+ community groups, such as Skipping Stone Foundation, a Calgary-based non-profit that supports and empowers transgender diverse youth and their families. A co-founder of Skipping Stone is on the Affirming Connections support team, along with an LGBTQ2S Settlement Specialist from the Centre for Newcomers, Rev. Tracy Robertson, and a youth representative. Affirming Connections will have a presence at Calgary Pride events, Trans Youth Awareness Week, Affirming events and celebrations, and at LGBTQ2S+ festivals in the broader community whenever possible. She is planning a LGBTQ2S+ themed lending library at St. Andrew’s offices and will be expanding the website and social media presence, along with providing an Affirming Leaders day in the Fall.