It’s hard to ignore the symbolism of how hosting the Vancouver Men’s Chorus this month fits into the Oak Bay United Church’s vision of a “radically welcoming” congregation.
For 35 years, the Vancouver choir has championed a positive image of the gay community while earning national awards for artistic excellence and original arrangements.
With 80 male voices determined to spread joy and a message of inclusiveness, every concert by the choir does what the United Church of Canada is aiming to do over the next year.
“In terms of leadership, all we can do is express our voice and the more voices we have, the more we will be heard,” said Gordon Miller, communication director for Oak Bay United Church, about embarking on a plan to “affirm” what it means to open its arms to all people, including those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
“What we’re inviting people to do is join in the conversation,” Miller said, explaining that at the end of the year the church will have gone through an intentional process of learning how to “walk the walk” and relating to people who are often misunderstood.
“This is who we intend to be – we don’t always get this right – but this is who we intend to be,” he said. “We are seeing more people in the community who are transgendered but we don’t know what questions to ask.”
In September, the church hosted a viewing of the film Call Me Malcolm, about “one man’s struggle with faith, love and gender identity.”
And on Nov. 1, the church hosted Trans 101, a presentation and question period with University of Victoria professor Aaron Devor on issues facing people who identify as transgender or transsexual.
The Vancouver Men’s Chorus will hold two shows: on Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 22, at 2 p.m, inside the 230-seat church on Mitchell Street.
The first part of each concert will feature general, secular music while the second will offer a preview of the choir’s renowned Christmas concert, Making Spirits Bright.
“It’s a pretty wide range of musical styles,” said Willi Zwozdesky, the acclaimed conductor and artistic director of the Vancouver Men’s Chorus.
The chorus has been around for 35 years and is well known for a series of seasonal concerts at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Vancouver.
Zwozdesky said he’s looking forward to coming to Oak Bay and thinks the venue will make for an intimate performance.
“It’s a beautiful design,” Zwozdesky said of the Oak Bay United Church.
And though times have changed considerably since the 1980s, Zwozdesky said he doesn’t think discrimination against people based on sexuality will disappear in his lifetime.
And so, in all seriousness, the show must go on.
“If people have this bias, maybe (attending the concert) can help them get over this bias.”
The United Church has a history of leading the way on social change and was one of the first faith groups to formally remove sexuality as a barrier to being ordained as a minister. Church leaders also advocated for the federal government to legalize same-sex marriage.
Tickets for the Vancouver Men’s Chorus’s Making Spirits Bright concert are available from the church or by calling 260-598-5021.