By Joyce Madsen
I have had a long-term active and inactive relationship with Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, and actually chaired the Board at the time the two congregations, Southminster and Steinhauer, made the decision to marry one another.
Southminster United is a congregation started 40 years ago by a group of people who had a passion for what we might call outreach and justice. Their initial decision to be a no-walls congregation was a reflection of their living out this sense of justice. In those early years Southminster founded homes for girls who were coming into the city and needed a place to stay that was safe. They provided support for people in the inner city by starting Operation Friendship. They helped families who needed furniture, and sponsored refugees. Over a third of their income went to fund outreach ministries.
When they saw a need in the new Ermineskin community for a United Church presence they began Steinhauer United Church. For many years its congregation worshiped in a school gym, and then in the Ermineskin Community Centre.
The one constant that I see as I step back and observe has been the congregation's commitment to its initial sense of mission - outreach and justice. It has been played out in many ways over the years, but in essence everything they have done has had this same focus.
The most recent outcome was the congregation's decision eight years ago to become an affirming congregation, to be a place where persons of all sexual orientations including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and straight would feel fully and completely welcome and able to participate in a Christian community together. The risks that they took when they made the decision to become affirming were not insignificant. They did not know whether there would be so much conflict that people would leave or avoid having a relationship with the congregation. Their faith and their mission were strong enough and engrained enough, however, they knew they had to take that risk.
Before you even enter the building, the labyrinth built into the nearby landscape says you are coming to a spiritual place. The Sunday I visited the worship experience was straight-forward and engaging - free of much of the traditional baggage that is boring for younger generations. The message was the most meaningful exposition of prayer I have heard - this in a day when we have abandoned the miracle-God-in-the-sky but don't know how to be really passionate about the God who is our partner and internal presence in life.
As we often find when we reach out into the unknown the results are a surprise. There has been growth. There has been a strengthening of the foundation. There is vitality and passion. They have worked hard to cultivate good leadership and to continue to explore all of the ways that they can provide support for those who have joined their community. It is an exciting place to be.
The challenge for them remains the same as it has always been, discerning the next outreach and justice issue that will lay its claim on them.
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