Janice Pow is a designated lay minister at Norwich United in Norwich, Ont. Pow recently made headlines for deciding open her church to all in Norwich United’s second annual Pride service amid the news that Norwich Township council had voted against flying any non-governmental flags, including pride flags, on civic property. She spoke with Broadview intern, Nathan Abraha.
NATHAN ABRAHA: On June 4, your church, Norwich United, opened its doors to all on Pride Sunday, regardless of sexuality or gender. How important is it for you to keep the church free from the outside noise you know is dominating the discourse right now?
JANICE POW: I don’t think I want to close the doors to the discourse. I’d like to keep the hate out, absolutely, but we can’t shut our doors and pretend what’s happening isn’t happening. It’s not about the people coming into the church. It’s not about having bums in the seats. Church is about opening up the doors and going out to where the people are. If there’s hate happening in the streets, if one person is feeling unsafe, then it’s up to us, as a church – especially us that know what love is and know that commandment.
It wasn’t like a little afterthought that Jesus [said] ‘Oh, by the way, make sure you love each other the way I loved.’ It was like do it. Get out there and love people the way I loved. I think we have to open up the friggin’ doors, open them up and show that love wins.
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NA: During the sermon, when you were looking into the crowd of people during Pride Sunday, did you notice any new faces?
JP: My big concern was would there be people in church that Sunday that had never been in church before. I was worried they wouldn’t feel welcomed or they would be nervous, so I really went out of my way to make sure that didn’t happen. During the early parts of the announcements, we talked about things like watching the choir for cues. And when they were coming in, we handed out a paper copy of what was happening in the bulletin. I just wanted everybody not to worry about being in church. And that so much of the hate that’s being proclaimed is proclaimed on behalf of the church. I didn’t want anyone in those pews to feel that hate, so it was really important to me that they felt welcomed and loved. You’re in God’s house and God says you’re okay to be here.
More on Broadview:
- David Fearon, who challenged a homophobic translation of a Bible passage, has died at 84
- I stumbled across Christianity’s first queer icon — two and a half decades too late
- New Halifax church creates a space where queer people are the majority
NA: With the current situation, especially around the conversation with Pride this month, do you feel that compassion is missing right now?
JP: It scares me how much room hate can take up in comparison to love and compassion. But what impresses me about the town that I work in, Norwich, is that when this came forward about not being able to fly the gay Pride flag on municipal property, when you drive around town, it’s like Norwich is the biggest supporter of gay pride. Because everybody’s house that’s not on that side, is flying the gay flag and some like zillions of them. And they’re not just little decorative little things in the window or one flag, they got their lawns full of the little ones. And they’re still stealing the flags. The flags are disappearing in the night, but more come — with every flag that’s stolen, two or three more go up.
NA: If you could reach out to that teenager or that person right now that is feeling unsafe in these times, that is feeling unwelcome at their schools or in their communities, what would you say to them?
JP: I’m sorry. I feel really bad that you’re feeling like this. Life is unfair sometimes, but you’re better than what you’re getting. And believe in yourself and believe that you are worthy. You’re a beautiful creation of our Creator and just trust it’ll get better. You have to have hope.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Nathan Abraha is a summer intern at Broadview and a freelance journalist based in Toronto.
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