In 1972 the General Council of the United Church of Canada (UCC) commissioned an eight-year comprehensive study of human sexuality and orientation. What followed was over of decade of research, internal conflict and, ultimately, a determination to see justice occur for LGBTQ+ people in religious ordination.

By 1988 hundreds of local discussion groups across Canada had debated this ongoing journey with reports suggesting that 90% involved opposed ordaining non-heterosexuals into the ministry of the church. That same year under huge opposition and hostile interference an unprecedented decision was made. At the 1988 General Council Assembly, those gathered listened to the life experiences of devout gay and lesbian church members. Stories that self-evidently amounted to spiritual and emotional abuse. For the majority of delegates present this was the first time they had met an LGBTQ+ person. Many minds where changed that day resulting in a final report that fully affirmed lesbian, gay and bisexual people into all aspects of the life and ministry of the Church and recommended that the church develop liturgies celebrating their covenantal relationships.

Same-sex marriages were still 17 years in their future.

As much as the 1988 report was ground-breaking amongst religious institutions it was not without consequence. Thousands of members of the United Church of Canada left their church communities in disagreement and protest with the decision.

It is out of this history that Shallow Lake Community Church was birthed. Our church story did not begin in recognition of the harm experienced by LGBTQ+ people and their families. Instead, Shallow Lake Community Church was founded in direct opposition to and separation from the United Church decision.

It has been said that when you know better you do better. Were we, as Christians, ignorant in our understanding of human development? Yes, we were. Were some influenced by our own prejudices and bigotry? Yes, they were. Did we recognize this? No, we did not. Were we spurred by religious conviction? Most definitely we were. Did we think we were defending Christian orthodoxy? We certainly did. Did we know we were causing harm? No, we didn’t.

But not knowing, does not negate or justify the reality of the exclusion, shaming and trauma inflicted on LGBTQ+ people and their families by religious institutions. Although many people over the history of our church changed their minds and spoke out, it wasn’t until 2016 that our journey towards change really begun.

That journey started with Pastor Liz Lapsley and for quite a long time she was a lone voice and an attacked voice. But she kept going. Our journey to a new day has been long and very costly for us as a church. We have watched and mourned as one by one people left our community. Our journey has really hurt us but not as much as being oppressed does.

In September 2019 the people of Shallow Lake Community Church voted towards adopting a fully affirming posture towards LGBTQ+ people in the life of our church. Affirmation included acknowledging the sacredness of all LGBTQ+ people; their relationships as well as their participation and ordination into the service of the church community. We may not have all understood the intricacy and diversity of human life and neither did we all understand the differences in scriptural interpretation. However, we did recognize that we were drawing a line in the sand that said ‘we will do no more harm.’ That day 89.9% members of Shallow Lake Community Church voted yes for full inclusion and affirmation.

As Christians we believe we are commanded to do good, love God and love people with no string attached. We believe as religious intuitions we have not done that. We have said ‘people are important;” “you are welcome;” and “come as you are.” But that welcome has come with conditions that built barriers for LGBTQ+ people; questioned their belonging, crushed their flourishing and continues to contribute to people’s deaths and we called that LOVE.

As Christians we are commanded to learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Instead as religious institutions we accepted, upheld and perpetuated a narrative that maligned and condemned LGBTQ+ people. We backed our thinking and behaviour often with shallow and biased readings of scripture and stood in religious indignation when we should have embraced humility and been willing to listen and learn. We did not defend the oppressed.

Today the Leadership of Shallow Lake Community Church acknowledges the harm, whether knowing or unknowingly, that we have been complicit in. For that we are truly regretful for the trauma caused.

To the LGBTQ+ community, families and friends; to the LGBTQ+ Christians we acknowledge and truly regret the times when

We, as Christians, should have invited you in, instead, we told you to go away.
We should have questioned our own motives, instead, we pointed our fingers at you.
We should have acknowledged our place of power and privilege, instead, we focused on conspiracy stories where we said you were out to destroy our world

We acknowledge and truly regret the times when

We, as Christians, should have reached out to you when you were hurt, instead, we turned our backs on you.
We should have mourned with you when your lives where taken, instead, we condemned and judged you.
We should have advocated on your behalf, defended you, instead, we stayed silent in the face of injustice.

We acknowledge and truly regret the times when

We, as Christians, should have welcomed and celebrated your giftings and service, instead, we disqualified them.
We should have upheld your uniqueness, instead, we condemned and belittled it.
We should have grown with you, instead, we tried to change you.

We acknowledge and truly regret the times when

We, as Christians, should have embraced your families, instead, we excluded them.
We should have protected you as teenagers, instead, we shamed and tried to fix you.
We should have taught our teens to welcome you, instead, we taught them it’s alright to bully you.

Today, as the leadership of Shallow Lake Community Church, we commit to create a community that will seek to do no harm and help heal the traumas we have been complicit in. We know we are truly impoverished without you. So, Shallow Lake Community Church is beginning again and in doing so we seek and look forward to the fresh possibilities that will create a new tomorrow.

May God show us the limitless wonders of love!

Liz and Paul Lapsley and the leadership of Shallow Lake Community Church