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Castleton-Grafton charge has landmark achievement

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Pastor David Lander is pleased to announce the Affirm Celebration service June 1 at St. Andrew's United Church in Grafton, in which the Grafton-Castleton pastoral charge will become the first multi-point pastoral charge (and the second in Canada) to become an Affirming church.
CECILIA NASMITH Northumberland Today

Pastor David Lander is pleased to announce the Affirm Celebration service June 1 at St. Andrew's United Church in Grafton, in which the Grafton-Castleton pastoral charge will become the first multi-point pastoral charge (and the second in Canada) to become an Affirming church. CECILIA NASMITH Northumberland Today

GRAFTON - 

On June 1, St. Andrew's United Church in Grafton will make it official with a special service: the Castleton-Grafton charge is the first multi-point pastoral charge in Ontario to become an Affirming Ministry.

It is also the second multi-point pastoral charge in Canada to achieve this landmark.

The Affirming Ministries Program encourages the study of what it means to be inclusive and publicly welcoming, offering support for sexual-orientation and gender-identity issues and encouraging the study of other United Church resources that promote the inclusion of other marginalized groups.

All United Church ministries have been invited to consider becoming an Affirming Ministry, and local churches are accepting the call — Brighton two years ago and Warkworth even before that.

Rev. Kristiane Black confirmed that Trinity United Church in Cobourg will celebrate their overwhelming vote to become an Affirming Ministry a few months ago with a Father's Day service June 15.

"We hope to have a member of Affirm United on hand to make the official declaration, and our worship service will reflect this," Black said.

At the Castleton-Grafton charge, Pastor David Lander said, the question of becoming an Affirming Ministry proved one of those rare occasions where a unanimous vote carried the day.

With Brighton, Warkworth, Cobourg and the Castleton-Grafton charge, that's four Affirming Ministries in the 26-church Hills & Shores Presbytery. Taken on a percentage basis, he said, that ranks this rural presbytery alongside Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto SE in the proportion of Affirming churches.

This presbytery is a member of the Bay of Quinte Conference, which declared itself an Affirming Ministry two years ago, Lander said.

"I asked the congregation why we weren’t, given that even though gays and lesbians and others still face a lot of prejudice, it's kind of motherhood and, indeed, gospel to accept all people."

The congregation set up a committee to investigate. A year ago, they started the process of becoming Affirming by establishing an open-marriage policy and including in the church’s mission statement that they are open to all, including those of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community, in affirmation of Jesus's gospel of inclusion.

"Becoming Affirming is not just making a decision, but ownership of it and education about it so that we are all on board. So we also held an information discussion session about a year ago so that people could question and clarify what it is all about,” Lander said.

"In order to be accepted as an Affirming congregation by the National Affirming Committee, we also needed an action plan for the future. We are already doing so many justice-oriented projects for a small congregation, our plan was primarily to continue putting energy into them."

The list Lander provided was extensive.

• For 10 years, St. Andrew's has collaborated with other local churches to run the Heavenly Helpings thrift store and, for 30 years, on the administration of the Haldimand Court low-income retirement home. They also collaborate with local churches to rotate hosting duties for a monthly program offering hot meals and entertainment for seniors and shut-ins.

• Several members have participated in a building project in Nicaragua, and the congregation sponsored a Colombian refugee family about 10 years back. They are now looking into sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family.

• For some years, the church has supported the efforts of a member who works for AIDS prevention, and they will be hosting participants in the Bicycle Tour for AIDS in July.

• They are looking into establishing ties with the new PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays) chapter that has begun meeting locally.

• Each September for seven years, they have hosted the highly regarded 100 Mile Diet event that showcases locally grown food, with proceeds supporting a school-nutrition program.

• One member is a regular visitor at Warkworth prison, and another is on the board of directors for Transition House.

• The congregation provides white gifts, money and volunteers for each year's Christmas-hamper program.

• The United Church Women support such causes as the Grafton Public School breakfast program and the local women's shelter.

• The minister has a monthly column in the local newspaper, which sometimes explores justice-related topics — which are a part of each Sunday's prayers.

• A monthly dinner-and-movie night offers fellowship and outreach as well as entertainment.

Lander is especially proud of the church's dramatic efforts. These include a 2013 staging of Dietrich Bonhofer's Skin Deep (on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and the 2014 Jennifer Llewellyn drama Tough Case about a restorative-justice situation. The latter was attended by a delegation from Rebound and has since been staged at Brookside Youth Centre.

"I am quite amazed at this little-church-that-could, for all the outreach-type things they are involved in," Lander said.

The June 1 Affirming Celebration Service at 11 a.m. will include members of the local PFLAG group as well as another special guest. Rev. Philip Cable grew up in the Grafton community and now lives in Barrie with his partner Rev. George Moore.

Cable gave a well-received presentation at last year's anniversary service, Lander said, so the congregation is looking forward to welcoming him back.


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