HOW THE CHURCH CHANGED MY LIFE – by Dianne Cooper

I’m here as a substitute for Russell Young who is recovering from a fall so hopefully we can hear from him another time.

Like those who have spoken and many of you, I thought I had been shaped rather than changed by the church. After all I started going to church even before I was born and ever since. My whole life wherever I or our family moved we looked for a church home. We wanted a community that we knew cared about each other and the world we shared. Church was in my bones. But as I thought about Min-goo’s question “how did the church change you?” I realised I had been changed. Here is what I thought about when I looked back. I grew up on a farm near a very small town.

When I was in grade 8 we moved to a slightly larger town. Both places were almost totally homogeneous. I never even knew there was such a thing as varied sexual identities. I only saw one family of colour. There were only minor differences in income levels.

Additionally, my world view was shaped by a childhood and youth family who weren’t a family that followed the news. Not on the radio. We had no TV and took no newspapers, except the one about farming that only my dad read. Even though education was important and all 4 of us kids went to university, my world view was very limited. After university and some exposure to new ideas, after marriage and daughters, our family moved to Winnipeg and joined FGUC where my world view started to change. I helped out a little as the congregation settled a “boat people” family.

I was exposed to peace movement issues and was recruited to go on a church sponsored trip to the war zones of Nicaragua. I remember asking this church for support. And I remember rick Abbott saying “well I think it is crazy, but if it’s what you think you should do”. The trip opened my eyes and my heart to a whole new world of struggles and amazing people people who were living in a war zone and struggling just to survive. People whose families had been massacred but they were making new lives. Rick’s words also helped me learn in a whole new way that it was possible and good to be able to voice disagreements but still support each other. For me that is church at its best.
As I think back to my earliest years in the peace movement I know I went on my first ever peace march in the days when literally thousands of Winnipeggers turned out. And some of you were there too, walking with the banner of Fort Garry United and joining other united churches. It was learning by doing that churches can be about more than our individual actions but also our collective actions.

I could probably give many other examples but will just share one more. It is about the UCC painful but important movement to open up to full participation in church and society for people of varied sexual orientations. From 1985-95 I was senior staff person for the UC in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. I was also still active here. The church struggle changed my understandings of the nature of human sexuality. The church showed me how so many people had been hidden and fearful. Participation in literally hundreds of gatherings across the years and across the region, and in this building, stretched my ability to listen and really hear people who fervently disagreed with each other and with me. Those events reminded me that the call to love one another does not mean avoiding the tough questions. I was proud to be of the UCC and I still am.
Church is where we love one another. In this small and special community and it is where we do what we can to speak and act on issues of peace and justice. I learned that in a whole new way and it changed me.

Each one of you is a vital part of what it means to be—in this place and this time a caring and loving community—to be the church—and for that I say thanks be to God.