Imagine: A church for those who don’t trust church

“Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Copyright JJM Schreiber, 2011
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2011

Church music? Apparently and rightly so. Last week I emerged from the church I have been attending, despairing that a deep ambivalence about my own ability to connect with faith may stand in the way of my search for community. This morning I remembered why, if there is a church that I can connect with, the one I have been attending may be as close as I can get. John Lennon’s Imagine, performed by a soloist set the framework for the reflections of the pastor.

Imagine? Yes, imagine hearing a pastor admit that in the 25 years since his ordination in the United Church of Canada, he never thought he would be looking at the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and think, maybe they have a point there. One does not have to look far to see how religion is perpetuating hatred, within families and communities, between ethic groups and countries. And it is not a new phenomenon. Is the problem religion? An atheist does not hesitate to answer, but what causes a pastor to ponder? And what does that mean for churches like Calgary’s Hillhurst United? My own anxieties about faith aside, it is a church that practices what it preaches: welcome and advocacy for the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized; outreach and full acceptance of everyone regardless of age, ability, sexuality or gender identity. Yet the pastor, John Pentland, is accustomed to meeting newcomers who share that they have no problem telling someone that they are gay, but don’t want anyone to know they go to church.

Is religion always at odds with all that could be positive and affirming about faith?

I am not sure yet. But I did spend Saturday at the church helping set up for a performance by Australian-Canadian queer trans artist, Sunny Drake. In the evening as the church hosted homeless families in the gymnasium, the pews of the Sanctuary were filled with a diverse audience treated to an outrageously funny performance about the trials and tribulations of a gay transgendered man trying to quit his addiction to romance. Honest in language and content that one would not generally not expect to find in a church, but together with the panel discussion that followed, this partnership with the city’s only queer theatre, Third Street Theatre, offers a vital opportunity to improve communication and understanding within and beyond the LGBTQ community. And yet another indication that at this church Affirming means much more than hanging a rainbow flag in the corner.

As someone who often feels as alienated within the LGBTQ community as within a larger community of faith, this weekend was an important indication of just what a church that seeks to embrace rather than exclude, can be.