Eight churches from Classis Toronto and one church from Classis Central Plains (regional assemblies of Christian Reformed congregations) created an LGBTQ+ Hospitality Cohort in response to a request from First Christian Reformed Church in Barrie, Ont.
Phyllis Alberts-Meijers is a member of First CRC in Barrie and part of the hospitality cohort’s leadership team. The roots of this effort go back to when First CRC’s deacons and elders worked through the CRC’s 2020 human sexuality report (HSR) before the report was taken up at Synod 2022. “We considered the HSR carefully and raised some wonderings about how to provide care for LGBTQ people in our midst in light of the recommendations in the report,” Alberts-Meijers said.
After Synod 2022, their council “asked for real and practical guidance” from their classis, Classis Toronto, and from the denomination because they “felt compelled to do a better job for our LGBTQ members, family members and allies and we were perplexed as to how to do that meaningfully,” Alberts-Meijers said. Synod 2022 received the sexuality report, recommended it to the churches, and recognized the prohibition on same-sex relationships as already having confessional status.
Syd Hielema, a member of Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, Ont., is also part of the cohort’s leadership team. “We understand that one of the primary purposes of the human sexuality report is to equip and encourage churches to be hospitable and welcoming to the LBGTQ+ communities,” Hielema said, noting fear of that purpose being “obscured and even neglected completely” because of “so much noise around the issue.”
In calling for the creation of what’s come to be known as the human sexuality report, Synod 2016 said, “The central aim of this theological task will be to provide concise yet clear ethical guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life, and in light of this to serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin.” (Acts of Synod 2016, p.915)
Hielema said Classis Toronto hosted a conversation in May where approximately 100 people attended. The learning cohort proposal came out of that conversation. “This cohort will honor the parameters of the human sexuality report and seek to be profoundly welcoming and hospitable to the LGBTQ+ community,” Hielema said.
Hielema added, “I believe the most important call of the human sexuality report is to learn to love and be hospitable.” Hospitality, first mentioned in a confessional prayer on page 10 of the report, is a common theme throughout, with several of the sections including pastoral advice on showing and sharing hospitality in specific situations. Hielema sees the cohort as an “anti-polarization project rooted in the heart of the gospel.”
On Saturday, Sept. 23, about 30 people from the nine churches met at CrossPoint CRC in Brampton, Ont. to launch the beginning of the cohort. Hielema said the group worshipped, discussed the purpose of the cohort, and did an exercise to acknowledge the weightiness of the conversations.
As part of the cohort, each of the nine churches agreed to work on a project that encourages hospitality with LGBTQ+ people. One church is planning to create a support system for grandparents of LGBTQ+ individuals, and another church, which acknowledged potential for conflict and reactivity within its congregation, intended to “pursue an agenda of reconciliation,” Hielema said.
Alberts-Meijers described the project as grassroots. “Our hope is that after a year of experiments, our nine participating churches will be able to demonstrate increased hospitality to all.” She also said that all the churches “agree that we need to love and care for people.”
Hielema said each church will be connected to a coach from the cohort who will meet with them throughout the year, encouraging them in their chosen projects. The cohort has planned video and in-person gatherings over the next eight months, with the final one in May to “end the project and give a blessing for each church to continue for years to come,” Hielema said. “One of our hopes is that the learnings this group achieves will inspire other classes or clusters of classes to do the same.”
The cohort includes First CRC (Barrie, Ont.), CrossPoint CRC (Brampton, Ont.), Clearview CRC (Oakville, Ont.), Willowdale CRC (Toronto, Ont.), Fellowship CRC (Toronto), All Nations Christian Fellowship (North York, Ont.), Georgetown (Ont.) CRC, Heritage Fellowship CRC (Brampton, no website), and Peace CRC (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Hielema said the Iowa church heard about the cohort and asked if they could be part of it.
Gary Brouwers, pastor of Peace CRC, and Henry Eygenraam, a member at Willowdale CRC, work with Hielema and Alberts-Meijers on the cohort’s four-person leadership team.