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Out in Faith promotes better integration in St. John's

Out in Faith is preparing for its third multi-faith service as part of an effort to promote better integration of the LGBTQAI2S+ community and faith-based groups.
Out in Faith is preparing for its third multi-faith service as part of an effort to promote better integration of the LGBTQAI2S+ community and faith-based groups. - Contributed

In 2015, the Quaker Worship Group was invited to march in the Pride parade, part of a major step forward in faith-based groups integrating and embracing members of the LGBTQAI2S+ community. The Quaker Worship Group quickly realized it was the only faith-based group participating in the parade and sought to do something about it.

From this realization was born Out in Faith, a multi-faith service designed to facilitate more faith-based groups getting involved in Pride.

Liz Ohle, a member of the Quaker Worship Group, took part in forming a committee with members of other faith-based groups to build the service and discuss how to be inclusive and foster a comfortable space for those of different faiths and sexual orientations.

“I just thought that people need permission to come march in the parade,” says Ohle, adding that a sign on the door saying everyone is welcome is not enough, and faith-based groups need to make an active effort to be inclusive and educate their members on doing so.

The first Out in Faith service, in 2016, featured seven speakers discussing topics such as their involvement in faith-based groups, a disconnect from faiths they were raised in, how they found a way to be comfortable as themselves within faith groups and how they found new faiths.

The first service was held in the chapel at Memorial University and was attended by 75 people. It was immediately evident the venue was too small, and the service was moved to The Gathering Place the following year.

Ohle says they have found a good partner in The Gathering Place, because it is a neutral space that is accessible for persons with disabilities, and happy to host an LGBTQAI2S+ event.

“We learned a lot from each other,” Ohle says about how through the process of putting together the service, the committee members learned how to be respectful and not make assumptions about those from different faith-based groups.

The core planning group of the Out in Faith service consists of six to 10 people, and Ohle notes it is less about numbers than it is about representation.

This year’s service will include eight speakers from different denominations and faiths, and the Spectrum Queer Choir will sing songs from different faiths. The service will last approximately an hour and a half and be followed by a reception with cookies from Rocket Bakery, where people can socialize and ask questions of the speakers.

“Anything we do shared, we’re careful about language,” says Ohle, explaining that in choosing songs and hymns from different faiths they were careful to select ones with neutral language that embraced common themes of love, peace and acceptance.

“There are people who would speak at this event but would be terrified to be out in their own community,” Ohle says about how the Out in Faith service gives people a chance to voice their experiences and beliefs without fear of judgment or retribution.

The name “Out in Faith” came from a panel that was held twice during Pride week prior to 2015, and featured speakers discussing issues of faith and the LGBTQAI2S+ community. When Ohle and other committee members approached Pride organizers about beginning the multi-faith service, the panel was cancelled.

The committee took on the name Out in Faith and, in addition to holding the service during Pride week, resurrected the panel in the winter as a way to keep the discussion about the LGBTQAI2S+ community and faith-based groups going throughout the year.

“It’s honest,” Ohle says about the service.

She says that sometimes discussions of faith can feel foreign, but the multi-faith service has an honesty to it in the way people express themselves.

Out in Faith is one of this year’s beneficiaries from Raise Up Fundraising’s Drag Bingo night and is grateful to receive the funding, which is allowing for the addition of the reception following the service.

Through the efforts of Out in Faith, there will be nine faith-based groups marching together in this year’s Pride parade, including four United Church groups, the Quaker Worship Group, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, the Jewish Havura, and children from the Bury Heights United Church Camp.

The multi-faith service will be held at The Gathering Place, 172 Military Rd., on July 19 at 7 p.m.

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