Augustine United Church sits near a bustling intersection in the city’s bohemian Osborne Village neighbourhood. From the outside, its century-old stone walls, sweeping double staircases, oak doors and towering spires make it look a bit old-fashioned and conservative. But it’s anything but old-fashioned and conservative.
Five short years ago, Canada enshrined the right to same-sex marriage in law. That’s a source of pride for Canadians. But few people know that 10 years before that, Augustine United Church in Winnipeg helped pave the way by becoming the first affirming church in Canada.
Known informally these days as the “Village Church”, Augustine was built by Presbyterians in 1904. It banded with Congregationalist and Methodist churches in 1925 when the United Church of Canada was founded. Christine Coltart, who joined the Augustine congregation in 1948, was born that same year.
Coltart remembers the years of study and preparation before Augustine became an affirming church. While some churches have seen their congregations torn apart by the process, Coltart says it was a “smooth transition.” Any members of the congregation who were unable to fully accept members of the GBLTTQ community left quietly, she says.
The United Church was an early leader in accepting gays and lesbians. In 1988, at the General Council in Victoria affirmed that gays and lesbians could be ordained and commissioned as ministers in the United Church.
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