There was Jay, welcoming people with a smile and exuding a joie de vivre that spread throughout the group gathering for worship at St. Andrew’s United Church last Sunday (May 10). This was a special Sunday. Not only was it Mother’s Day, it was the day they were voting on whether to become an Affirming Congregation.
Among the mysterious convolutions of the United Church there is a policy concerning the acceptance of gays and people of all sexual orientations. The National church is all for it. But local churches are left to decide for themselves. Affirming Congregations are those who decide by a vote of their membership that they will accept, marry and in all ways treat people of all sexual orientations in an equal manner. It may seem redundant. We don’t have to vote on Affirming heterosexuality. It is, however, an outward and visible sign that ones who were marginalised and even abused are now welcomed into the mainstream of life and faith.
St. Andrew’s has the happy circumstance of not being encumbered by pews. The space can be used for many purposes and in any variety of arrangements. This day, as we entered, we met long rows of tables with chairs on both sides. On the tables were boxes of crayons! What could they be for?
On tables at the back were all the voting apparatus; membership lists, ballots, and a voting booth in the parlour. Not being members we could not participate in that particular act, but we were well welcomed into the worship. We settled at a table with some friends to await what would unfold.
This turned out to be an adult Sunday school day. The usual drill is for the children to retreat to their Sunday school rooms after the “children’s” story.” Today they stayed and were part of the whole Service.
The Service began with Jay (Rev. Jay Ettinger) singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” from Godspell over and over again. Gradually we joined in until this electrifying tune filled the room.
We soon discovered the purpose of the crayons. Each of us was given a colouring book sketch of “The Woman at the Well,” a familiar biblical story. As Jay read the story and a contemporary story with a similar message, we were taken back to our childhood as we coloured our pictures, being careful not to go outside the lines. At least one person, not me, took it home and dutifully put it on the fridge!
It was a most interesting experience. Even as you coloured the picture you could take in the story and its message. The activity and the picture added another dimension of understanding. This story is about a woman who was a social outcast whom Jesus met at the well and treated with acceptance and respect.
There was no doubt that the leadership of this Congregation were looking for a “yes” vote. The rainbow wall hanging behind the communion table and the flavour of the Service enveloped us with the message of acceptance.
Today’s vote was not lightly or quickly taken. There has been long and careful education and preparation. In so many ways this has always been an accepting congregation. Their doors have always been open to the wider church and community. Many times I have been part of or led workshops and various and sundry groups as a Presbytery member or Centre Staff person. Today’s vote is a logical next step as they seek to embody the meaning of the gospel.
The Service concluded with Communion, served by the children. The bread and then the cup were passed along each side of the tables. The children carried out their task with dignity and aplomb. Watching Jay serve the children was most moving and reminded me of Jesus’ plea to “allow the children to come to me.”
A happy, joyous attitude pervaded the Service. This was a happening, a celebration of life, a taste of what life and worship can be.
Oh yes, the vote was 94% in favour of becoming an Affirming Congregation.