I’ve been a member of my church for about five years. I started going shortly after I first moved into the neighborhood. I’ve wanted a church to call home for a very long time, but as a youth did not want one that prescribed a belief system I could not get behind. Mostly, I’m talking about Christianity.
When I was in high school, those were still the days before the cross-Canada legalization of same-sex marriage. I was starting to explore organized religion after my studies in individual spiritual systems left me feeling unfulfilled, and an unidentified nagging pushed me onward. I decided to attend a local United Church and loved it. The friendliness, the singing, the shaking hands. It wasn’t overly preachy. I couldn’t wait to dive all the way in.
I had many chats with the church’s youth pastor and eventually the subject of confirmation classes came up. I only had to clear up one thing.
“How important is the belief in the divinity of Jesus?” I asked.
“It’s the core of our belief system,” he told me, slightly bewildered.
I thanked him for his time and never went back. I would find Church elsewhere.
At the time, I figured diving all the way in was the only way to go. Go big or go home, right? But I wanted something that fit exactly with my beliefs – which were, on average, mostly agnostic. A quiz I took online told me I would be a 100% match for Unitarian Universalism (UU), but looking it up, I decided it was too wishy-washy. And yet, I eventually found myself wandering into the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) at age twenty-three, still having not found Church.
I have been involved in my church to varying degrees over the years. When I first started going, I was still in the mindset of diving all the way in. After only a few months of attendance, I started volunteering as an advisor with the youth group. I eventually even took on a paid position as a Co-Director of Religious Education for a year. I’ve attended functions, and volunteered at events. I’ve worked in the kitchen, and I’ve led a couple of summer services. I’ve learned to run the sound system, and I know how the dish washer works (FYI, it’s not actually a dish washer, but a sanitizer). There have been times where I was at every service, rain or shine, and there have been times where I only show up if I am on the schedule to run the sound board for service. I’ve gone through periods of Church being an absolute essential, as well as periods of Church burn-out.
But now we’re moving, and my days at my church are numbered. The nearest UU church to our new home in Nova Scotia will be three hours away.
Unitarian Universalism is guided by 7 Principles – none of which dictate spiritual beliefs, but humanist ones. UCE performed its first same-sex wedding in 1973, and most services start with an introduction that includes a bit about “whomever you love, you are welcome here.” I found my church before coming out as bisexual, but I never felt a moment’s hesitation about being myself amongst the congregation. One year I brought a man with me to the Christmas Eve service and two years later, I brought a woman. Friends at church were excited for my engagement to this woman and eventually the minister, Brian Kiely, married us.
A lot of people at my church like to say that many of us have a “church gene”, meaning that while we don’t necessarily subscribe to the religious beliefs of many churches, we still desire Church, as a community, even as atheists or agnostics. I have this church gene, and while my need for Church waxes and wanes, it is always there. Church is something that I need. I had felt an uncomfortable spiritual yearning before finding my church. There are things I love about Church – my church – and there are things I could take or leave. But it’s always been there, waiting patiently for me to come back to it. I assumed it always would be.
Now I face a potential withdrawal from Church.
Before buying this house in the Christian country-side, my wife Mo and I checked with the realtor we were dealing with. We did not want to move, as a same-sex married couple, into a community that did not want us. The realtor assured us that we would have no issues. She told us that the well-respected minister of the local United Church was in a same-sex relationship.
And so we come full circle.
I now know that perhaps diving all the way in, especially all the time, is not the wisest course of action. I also know that the United Church of Canada is a very LBGT-friendly church – perhaps even the most liberal Christian church in Canada. I know I’ve always loved Christian hymns, gospel music, and Christmas. Funnily enough, through Unitarian Universalism, I’ve even learned to appreciate Christianity instead of dismiss it as homophobic and irrelevant.
I feel a little scared, and more than a little sad. There is a certain safety in a church that performed same-sex unions decades before it was legalized in Canada, versus a church that didn’t commit to “becoming an anti-discriminatory and welcoming denomination” until four years later, in 2009. But everyone starts somewhere in their inclusion.
I feel like I could join a United Church congregation and be happy. My need for Church would be satisfied. I would not need to subscribe to everything. And with a queer minister at the helm, I think I’ll do alright indeed.
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