Creating space to work towards inclusion

April 24, 2019 | News | Volume 23 Issue 9
Rachel Bergen | Contributing Editor
Thea Andres led the Beyond Binaries event with Pastors in Exile at Waterloo North Mennonite Church on April 6. (Photo courtesy of Thea Andres)

Churches wanting to take the next step in becoming affirming of LGBTQ+ people might wonder “What’s next?”

A workshop led by Thea Andres together with Pastors in Exile (PiE) at Waterloo North Mennonite Church on April 6 aimed to answer those questions and help churches take the plunge. The seminar drew approximately 120 people, including church leaders and lay people. 

It was made possible through a grant from the Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College. Andres took part in the centre’s Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentorship Program and was given a small stipend to host the workshop together with PiE.

The scholarship and mentorship program equips young leaders with skills to tackle a problem they’re passionate about in their community, allows them to network with other leaders in high schools across Ontario, and helps them launch an event or campaign to address the cause.

For Andres, that was creating a safe space to ask questions with the hope of helping more churches take the next step towards being welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.

“There’s a lot of silence in the church around queer inclusion,” the 17-year-old Rockway Mennonite Collegiate student said. “I think it’s important for the silence to be broken and for people to be talking about it respectfully.”

Andres thinks there are congregations that want to be more inclusive but are afraid to ask even basic questions. “I’m noticing that people don’t know what [the acronym] LGBTQ+ means,” Andres said. “For me, ‘Beyond binaries’ was aimed at people who have decided they want to be an affirming church. A lot of this, for me, is saying, ‘Okay, so you say you want to be affirming, but how do we act that out.’ ”

Call for volunteers

Andres teamed up with PiE, an Anabaptist-rooted movement that’s passionate about connecting young people in Waterloo Region with vibrant faith experiences inside and outside of church walls.

Tamara Shantz from PiE said “Beyond binaries” involved morning worship featuring LGBTQ+-friendly hymns, a panel discussion with LGBTQ+ speakers who spoke about what an affirming church looks like to them, and afternoon workshops.

She said the event was right up PiE’s alley.

“In the community of young adults that connect with PiE, there is an immense longing for the church to be a place that celebrates and fully welcomes the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “Many of the young adults who find themselves on the outside of the church are there, in part, because of traditional theology and policies that exclude and discriminate against those who identify as queer.”

For Andres, this event came from a personal place.

“I have gone through the feeling that faith and identity can’t coexist in the same way [as other queer people], and since the Mennonite community has been such a big part of my life for my whole life, I feel like that’s where I want to bring understanding to,” Andres said, adding that the most touching part of the event was when 100 people sang an LGBTQ+-friendly song to the tune of “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

“It was amazing to hear 100 voices singing ‘Quirky, Queer and Wonderful.’ It was really amazing and touching and meaningful for a lot of people,” said Andres, who hopes to address some of the feedback gathered from “Beyond binaries” and tailor future events to the specific needs of people in the community. “I think working towards queer justice has been really life-giving. It’d be great to do something like this again.” 

Further reading:
'Queer and quirky and profoundly worthy of wonder' 
Searching for a 'generous space'

Thea Andres led the Beyond Binaries event with Pastors in Exile at Waterloo North Mennonite Church on April 6. (Photo courtesy of Thea Andres)

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