International Day of Families: May 15

A family's shoes

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by Donna Sinclair

A congregation operates more like a family than any other human structure. We bring to it tantrums, hungers, rivalries, allegiances, and affections just like the ones we knew as we grew up.

Furthermore, we expect to see families in the pews, as microcosms of this larger community. And people do, obligingly, quite often come to church as part of a unit: a couple with or without children in tow; a single mom or dad and a child; a grandma, say, and a granddaughter.

We would never anticipate these configurations at the meeting of a political party or a trade union meeting. Only at a gathering of faith.

In fact, we often refer to the community that meets as a whole on Sunday morning as a “family of faith,” one that can stand in for the family of origin when it is far away or under stress.

Our congregation does this beautifully. It wraps itself around the university student who is far from home or the child who has arrived in a wheelchair just as lovingly as it does around those who arrive as with the requisite two parents and one-and-a-half siblings.

Now our church family has embarked on the long process of deciding whether or not to become an Affirming Congregation. (Yes, in case you are wondering, this is a blog about families.) We are trying to decide who will be admitted to our faith family to be loved unconditionally and openly and with complete acceptance. That’s what healthy families do.

It’s a big order. A congregation that has declared itself “Affirming” publicly states that gays and lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people are not only welcomed within its doors, but affirmed. Safe. Part of the family.

There will be no effort (subtle or otherwise) to change their sexual identity, and no implicit familial hierarchy that conveys the idea that a family of mom, dad and three kids is more, um, …suitable …than one that has two moms or two dads. Nobody will attempt to match up that good-looking gay guy with the single woman who is about the same age (although they may, on their own, become good friends).

Most importantly, there will be a sign. A rainbow decal on the front door, or a flag, a public statement framed on the wall, a note on a web site – something that indicates to the rejection-weary GLBT person that we and they are okay. Rejection on sexual orientation grounds does not happen here.

We’re talking to each other about this. We’ve been talking and talking for months, and we’ll probably discuss it for another year before it goes to a congregational vote. (Meanwhile, those GLBT folks who manage to find us feel welcome. We hope.)

So last Sunday about 40 people met to try to figure out what it means to be “affirming.” Several members of our faith family have been wondering – since we are already open to everyone who comes through our doors – why we need to make this public declaration.

To this end, our Affirm committee had written skits. After each one, audience members were to comment on what they had perceived (always a bit dangerous, since the audience, now owning the dramatic material, might deduce all sorts of things from it). But we were brave and, apparently, hilarious.

In one skit, a woman complains about an unobserved Valentine’s Day. “You know I love you 365 days of the year,” responds her husband, hardly glancing up from his newspaper.

“But …I want my friends to see that I have a my Valentine’s Day card from my sweetie, and I want to get flowers before I die,” she says plaintively. “Is that too much to ask?”

Chuckles from the audience. The “actors” have been happily married to each other for 40-some years of real life.

Then the one child in attendance – a six-year-old – raised her hand. The room fell silent. “Why did you want him to give you a card?” she said.

The “wife” listened carefully.

“Because sometimes words are not enough,” she replied. “Sometimes when you say ‘I love you’ you have to show everybody that you really mean what you say.”

In the hushed room, metaphorical pennies dropped without a sound. Several pairs of hands, drawn up ready to clap, relaxed. This was no time to patronize the child who had asked the illuminating question.

Because of course if we are a family, we love each other, and say so out loud. If we are a family, we let the whole world know that we accept each other for who we really are. If we are a family, we do our highly visible best to make a safe place for every family member, for all who seek a home in Christ’s compassion.

In our congregation, we’re working on it.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Christian Life, Donna Sinclair, Family and Parenting, Peace, Justice, and Equality


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3 Comments on “International Day of Families: May 15”

  1. May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Wonderful Donna. Beautifully-written (as usual) and so evocative of your congregation’s journey. Being a member of the newest congregation to become an “Affirming Ministry” as of this past Sunday, May 13th (Saint Luke’s United, Toronto), I send you and your ‘family’ our warmest best wishes, David (

  2. muriel duncan
    May 16, 2012 at 3:11 am #

    Thanks Donna. As usual, I appreciate your gentle untangling of our thoughts and actions as we move in new directions. Lessons here for church families and for individual families who want to demonstrate unconditional love.

  3. Donna
    May 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Thanks so much to both of you… I am as, always, grateful for comments from people I admire profoundly, like the two of you. For many years.

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