Rev. Dirk Jessen
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Other Outsiders—Rev. Dirk

Last week I wrote about how Tofield United Church provided a welcome and a church home for my immigrant parents. The more I think about that welcome, the more I realize the significance of this act of kindness. As I mentioned, being from Germany not long after World War 2, there was still significant anti-German sentiment in Canada, even something like Germanophobia. (One of the features of the German language I cherish is the license to create new compound words!)

During the worship service last Sunday as I was commenting on the Minute for Mission that talked about summer camps for LGBTQ2 youth, I became emotional. In that moment, I was struck by the importance of the welcome and safety my own “outsider” family received when it first came to Canada and how it was connected to the acceptance of people of non-majority sexual orientations and gender identities. Why shouldn’t this courtesy not also be extended to LGBTQ2 individuals and their families?

Homophobia is similar to Germanophobia. It is rooted in fear, most often based on a lack of personal awareness of and connection with individuals from a certain group a fear that often is expressed through hostility. By getting to know my family personally, by worshipping, visiting, and eating with us, Tofield United Church represented a particular vision of a welcoming, inclusive God who care for us even though we were different.

Tofield United Church also benefitted. First of all it received (at almost every potluck) the gift of my mom’s special red cabbage. My parents, though often they could barely afford it, contributed generously in funding the congregation, Bissell Centre and other United Church initiatives. Further, the people of Tofield United Church learned about and benefitted from our involvement by developing firsthand experience of immigrants. In the 1970s, the congregation sponsored a family of Vietnamese refugees, in part because of experience with my immigrant family.

One of the great strengths of the United Church of Canada is its willingness to develop relationships with individuals and groups who are otherwise overlooked and even viewed with suspicion by others, by outsiders. By doing so, the United Church of Canada has been and will continue to be of great importance in the work of God in our world.

Next week: What will remain the same? What is about to change?

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