The separation of Church and State; of ‘sin’ and hate

As an admitted ‘political junkie’ I have more than a passing interest in the U.S. election, Canada’s minority Parliament, and the continent-wide “gay marriage” discourse.

I feel blessed to be part of the Trinity-St. Paul’s faith community within a national church (The United Church of Canada) that has spent many years painfully debating – often in public – the issue of ordaining gay men and lesbians as ministers, to a lesser extent the acceptance of us as members and, more recently, church-sanctioned marriage of same-sex couples.

Despite its name the “United Church” (the name comes from its founding, in the 1920s, as an amalgamation of several smaller denominations) is not always of one mind on these issues. I think, though, we all believe – on some level – that “sin” (or falling short) is something we can all relate to. Discerning what is, and is not, “sin” makes for lively discussions.

“Affirming” congregations, and some others who haven’t gone so far as to declare themselves as such, openly embrace all of the persons, and combinations of people, I mentioned above.

Trinity-St. Paul’s (or TSP as we affectionately call it) is just one such congregation.

I was brought up in a small United Church congregation in Valleyfield, Quebec – so small that it has since closed. When I left home for Niagara College I was led to experience – and all definitions of ‘experience’ apply – a fundamentalist church. This was at a time when my sexual orientation was causing me some confusion, to put it mildly.

Offended once too often I found my way to the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto where, it must be said, I had a wonderful church-going, community-building experience over several years – first commuting from St. Catharines and then as a new resident of Toronto. These were also the years I was dealing with becoming HIV-positive and, later, developing AIDS.

When a group of “seekers” split away from the MCC congregation I followed them, and remained with them for a year or two.

Then, five years ago last Pentecost Sunday, I joined TSP having found it in the second week of my hunt for a United Church to call home again.

It has been home ever since. We are a downtown church with all of the characteristics, and characters, one finds downtown. I absolutely love it here.

The first thing that hooked me was the organ and choral music, perhaps a “tie” with the Akron-style sanctuary.

Then it was the people.

Here I am openly gay, openly living with AIDS, openly a former drug and alcohol abuser, and – ever so slowly (this should help!) – becoming open about my sexual abuse, by a stranger, in my youth.

Like I said, as I began this, I feel blessed.

The congregation – through, but not limited to, our pastoral staff leaders Karen and Hal – encourages questions, big questions, about The Divine, faith, life, you name it and we openly welcome people of other faiths (we have adherents who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and of Aboriginal backgrounds, among others).

You have encouraged me, as I lived out a dream and ran a 5k AIDS fundraising run in 2001, and – more recently – sold “Beads of Hope” campaign pins. You ministered to me, even with the restrictions made necessary by SARS, after my traumatic accident in 2003 (and again through your prayers and visits during my current gall bladder problems).

You held me as I mourned the loss of my father.

As lonely as it can get sometimes for this survivor, subject to depression as I am, I never need to be alone if I can make the effort to be among true friends here.

‘Thank you’ doesn’t come close to expressing my gratitude.

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