Queer Spirit Church for Halifax
Halifax has a new spirituality and worship group, Queer Spirit Church. In September, Wayves interviewed organizer Arla Johnson.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I completed my Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.). The M.Div. degree is the standard, professional graduate degree pursued by those considering vocational ministry. Often, those who earn a M.Div. degree go on to pursue ordination within their church tradition. I have been on the ordination track both with FBCH and the Canadian Association for Baptist Freedoms (CABF) for a few years. The Congregation of First Baptist Church Halifax licensed me to ministry in 2017. In 2019, the CABF granted me an Association License to Minister. This constituted the first steps in the ordination process. I am currently working with the CABF Credential Committee and am completing a one-year mentorship under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis, University Chaplain for Acadia . I'm currently serving as the Halifax Regional United Baptist Association appointed Chaplain through Dal’s Multifaith Services office.
On a more personal note, I met the love of my life at a Queer Church, Saint John the Apostle, which is a Metropolitan Community Church ( MCC) in Fort Myers Florida. I served as a deacon at this church for approximately 10 years and lead the counselling program through this church for at the time I was a licensed mental health therapist, I received my Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counselling / Psychology in 1995. My wife Julie and I were officially married at First Baptistt Church Halifax September 2017. If anybody is familiar with JD SHORE Rum’s, well that’s my wife. We are the owners of Halifax Distilling Company and she is the Master Distiller…. We laugh and say “it’s always about the spirit of things”.
Do you think it’s the springtime of your calling, your career, that makes you enthusiastic about this project? or makes it even possible?
No. It’s been in my heart for many years since coming [to Halifax] and visiting the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) here. I met my wife at the MCC in Fort Lauderdale and we moved to PEI 23 years ago. I felt the calling to go into ministry then. I really feel it's time we had an all-queer church again in Halifax. When I entered the Atlantic School of Theology (AST) seven years ago, my intention was to bring another queer church to Halifax, and when I went to First Baptist, I saw that it fit with the church and its social justice issues. I said, we need something like that here.
What I’m hoping is that those with "church phobia" or those who don’t understand their church, can come here and explore that. I think that when they feel the extraordinary fellowship of a queer church, they will want to come back.
What if someone cynically suggested that the church has a lot of cold pews and this is a last-ditch effort to warm them?
That’s ludicrous. This is not an attempt to fill pews, this is an attempt to fill souls. If ten people show up, or twenty, or a hundred and twenty, that's OK. If we can touch one life, or two lives, we'll have done good work.
First Baptist Church on Oxford has a decades-long history of being Q friendly in a variety of ways. How integrated into that existing community will your new congregation be?
I hope they will want to come to a Sunday service. I hope we meet here the first Wednesday of the month for the first season, and then we'll sit back and assess who's coming, and whether or not this is fulfilling a need for them? Is once a month good? Once a week? Would my parents or brothers like this church? Maybe some of these folks would come on a Sunday morning. The space is available many times during the week so all things are possible. We have the vision, we have the tenacity, to make anything happen.
What are your thoughts on a separate organization rather than integrating with the existing congregation there? On one hand, we have an idea that birds of a feather enjoy and have a better experience together versus… ghettoization. How do you work with that?
First off, the intention with Queer Spirit Church is to not integrate with First Baptist. This is something that’s being created from the roots up for the queer community. This is an exclusively queer church that welcomes all. I want people to take ownership of this church for the greater community. This is something they’re creating, not something that’s part of First Baptist. If they want to join on Sunday, that's OK, but that's not the goal.
You mentioned wanting to create something since Safe Harbour shuttered nine years ago. What elements of Safe Harbour did you miss?
First off, not only Safe Harbour but the MCC we attended in Fort Lauderdale. I miss being in a community where the majority is queer. I miss the camaraderie and the fellowship and there's something... when my parents would come to church, they would say, "there’s something about this, there's a special feeling when you walk in." There’s a particular fellowship that's felt in a queer space. You can ask anybody who goes to MCC in Toronto, and they'll tell you the same thing. You feel the love, you feel the passion, you feel the unity.
Will Queer Spirit Church be doing specific, what a layperson might call specific outreach or charity work? What inside the church might be called ministry, social justice, or service work?
I certainly hope so. I think again, this is going to be what we decide is important for us. I think definitely outreach would be part of that. Jesus was the biggest champion of social action, justice. Church isn't just about what goes on in here; we need to combine action, acts of kindness, compassion, and caring for those in need of help, and social justice.
Will you be offering any counselling services or programs for seniors?
My background is in psychology; I was a licensed therapist. I would hope to be able to offer pastoral counselling if needed and wanted. We’re all gifted with talents and gifts that we are called to share.
A Wayves reader asks: as a pantheist I've been to an awful lot of events that advertised that people of all faiths were welcome. But then when I went, I found myself being led in group prayers addressed to "Christ, our Lord." If they truly welcome people of all faiths, what are they doing to make their church welcoming to queer folk who are Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc?
Myself and the other worship leaders are Christian, and when I advertise, we say all welcome, any denomination, all faiths. However we do proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can't deny that. We have a big God, a God who includes all people, not just Christians. We follow the teachings of Jesus Christ who I believe called all to the table. He did not preach religion or a church; he preached love and compassion, and that is what will be coming out of here.
Which Christian faith tradition will you be following? And will that be closely, or loosely?
Although it is a Baptist church and I’m a Baptist minister, Rick is a United Church minister, and we have an AST student who is also United. I think it’s going to be non denominational. We’ll be praying, singing, worshiping, we'll be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It's all the things you’ll find in all Christian denominations.
So - some practicalities. Can you outline what a service might be like? Music? Is there a social after? Potlucks?
Well, there'll be full COVID precautions. We open the doors at 6:30, invite people in for coffee and snacks. But we don’t know what will go on after that. What do people want? Do we want a monthly pot luck? It would be wonderful to have a social hour, fellowship, after church or before church. We’ll be creating this amongst ourselves. This isn't my church or Rick's church, this is our church. We'll have a bulletin that outlines the whole service and at the end, we'll be asking what did you like, what didn’t you like? What would you like the service to become?
How does someone join? How does someone attend? How does someone new attend?
Just come. Come as you are. Be you and be here. The doors will open at 6:30 for some social time before the service on Wednesday, October 6th; the service starts at 7:00.
- For the fall season, the first Wednesday every month, 6:30pm
- First service: 6:30pm, Wednesday, October 6, 2021, service starts at 7:00
- 1300 Oxford Street, First Baptist Church. Come in the big front doors