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Joy to her World

On this Joy Sunday, we welcome Jessica Ayers through Affirmation of Faith to the United Church of Canada.  Jessica has blessed us by sharing her story so we can truly grasp the enormity of what we do when we smile and say “Welcome to God’s house! We are so pleased to meet you!”  In Jessica’s words:

Whoever you are, there’s a place for you here: Lynn Valley United Church.

At the age of 13, I was invited by Baptist relatives to a Billy Graham convention and there, I answered positively the invite to welcome Jesus into my life.

Days later in a quiet moment, aware of Jesus’ presence, I asked Him to, “Please keep a light burning for me,’ since I knew that once returned to my Catholic family, my faith would be put on hold.

Indeed, my ‘prophesy’ was realized, and whilst I attended church most Sundays under duress, I declined the opportunity to be confirmed in the Catholic faith.

As a young woman I became a feminist, eventually ‘coming out’ as lesbian. I considered being lesbian/ feminist and Christian back then to be incongruent; and this belief was supported by both communities I encountered. The feminist movement asserted that Christianity existed to further the patriarchal agenda. Christians asserted that homosexuality was an abomination to God.

However, God’s love finds a way, and shortly after coming out, my lifelong partner and ally came to me in the form of a young Catholic lesbian woman just back from a year’s work experience in North Vancouver, BC. Like me, her religion was on hold due to the church’s viewpoint.

During our youth, we balanced the conflicting concepts of homosexuality/ personal politics over religion - or celibacy within our relationship. Not a comfortable place to exist!

 In our early years together we lived in ‘hard to let’ government housing in London, England, supporting each other through an access course to university, having each left home with poor education, and no prospects.  During this period we experienced much discrimination and prejudice, violence, and heartbreak - just because we loved.

Neighbours on the housing estate we lived on dumped garbage in our yard; everything from soiled diapers to furniture. Things were thrown at us, we were followed, dogs were set on us, and we were spat on. We were accosted in the street and threatened in local shops. Eventually, our house was broken into, our furniture destroyed, and items stolen. This resulted in a court case - where our abusers goaded us as we waited for the hearing.

All this time the local government did nothing to follow up our complaints, and the police merely advised us to move out of the area to safeguard our lives.  So grateful were we that a friend of a friend got to hear of our plight, took pity on us, and invited us to live in an apartment she was vacating in order to buy. We hired a small truck and in the dead of night, left our home for good.

Glad to be safe, we soldiered on with our studies, practicing in some of the toughest schools in the country. On one occasion, after an exhausting day we left school to discover our car propped up on bricks, with all four wheels stolen!

Upon completing our degrees we each acquired a teaching post and our careers began, but not long afterward my partner was bullied out of her job by a homophobic staff member.

In 1986 we visited Vancouver for Expo 86 - and so that my partner could show me the country she had loved and left, some years before. I arrived in Canada with pleurisy - and a bottle of antibiotics from my doctor and ended my visit to VGH hospital. Wrapped in warm blankets and properly medicated, I made an almost immediate recovery. I fell in love with Canada right there!

In the ladies' washroom of the YVR at the start of our journey home, we overheard two English women discussing how ‘disgusting’ Canada was in its treatment of homosexuals. They couldn’t wait to be back in a country that had ‘common sense,’ (and treated homosexuals with contempt).  Upon our return to the UK, we made inquiries about the possibility of emigrating, but we didn’t have enough points to qualify.

In 1987 Mrs. Thatcher introduced Clause 28, the first new homophobic law to be introduced in a century. The section banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain’s schools which, amongst other things, seriously affected our perceived or real security as teachers.

In these precarious times, my partner and I considered starting a family. However, my doctor advised it was against her religion to assist us, and would not refer us for help. We went from private clinic to private clinic until we found one that would treat us. However, we quickly ran out of funds.

We moved to the countryside in an attempt to escape the intensity of London life, but by this time I was headed for a nervous break-down, and could no longer work. In desperation, my partner made contact with a gay Canadian immigration lawyer who, upon hearing our story considered us (for all intents and purposes) refugees, and so began a three-year immigration process.

In 2006 we arrived from the UK to Canada; escapees from years of discrimination, prejudice, and violence encountered in our homeland, just because we loved.  I am grateful every day to the Canadian government for allowing us to become citizens of this beautiful country.

Whilst Canada provided us with a safe haven, our history and experience kept us from believing that our love for one another and God’s love for us could ever be married.

Indeed more recently, my partner returned joyously from a church service near our home, believing that she’d found a church for us. But whilst the service preached God’s love for all, the mission statement said otherwise, describing our existence as a ‘base sin’.

So desperate was I to talk of God, that I found myself striking up conversations on the subject with friends, neighbours, and associates. And it was during one of these conversations that someone suggested the Lynn Valley United Church might suit me.  I mentally noted the name then put the idea out of mind to avoid more disappointment. 

For many nights I quietly cried myself to sleep, begging God to come back into my life.

And then one day in the spring of 2020 I found myself rising early, and whilst the household slept, creeping out of the house and driving to Lynn Valley United Church. My legs took me to a vacant seat with the idea in mind that as soon as the service was over, I would dash to my car, avoiding any conversation that might enquire after a husband and family.

And then the service was opened - by Reverend Blair.

I scanned the congregation. Did anyone notice what I had? Did these people know their priest was gay!?

As the service drew to a close, I attempted to execute my plan, and disappear like Cinderella. However, in the church foyer, I found myself surrounded by an excited congregation, and all I could hear was: “New, new,” and “Welcome, welcome, welcome!” (Not one person assumed or inquired about my status).

The rest as they say is history.  Although the church was closed two weeks after I first attended (due to COVID), I have been Zooming my way to God with the help of the warmest, kindest, most accepting, and loving Christians I have ever met. Christians for whom the sometimes flippant term ‘All Welcome,’ actually means just that.

The concept that ‘Jesus loves me’ - and just the way I am to boot - is a new concept for me that I am just barely getting used to. The fact that others consider I have something of worth to share is happily befuddling.

I cannot thank enough the Lynn Valley United Church, and all those associated with it - present and past, for their incredible efforts in making the church an Affirming one.  Finally, I can let shine the light Jesus kept burning for me for all these years.

After almost a life-time’s Search, my partner and I have found a place, within a place to call home.

Thanks Be to God.

Jessica.

 

2 Comments


Mary Yan about 2 months ago

Wow!! Deep gratitude to Jessica for sharing her story. You courage and persistence (amongst other strengths) throughout your journey inspire us, as a church, to do the same as we continue our affirming journey and beyond.


Jessica Becker about 1 month ago

Congratulations, Jessica! Thank you for sharing your story. Finally settling in to a Church community is no easy thing but to be able to do it after the journey you've had while just trying to be yourself is remarkable. We're so happy and proud to have you both in our lives. JJP


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