When Pieter Niemeyer came out as gay in 2014, it was an isolating experience.
“There really wasn’t a lot of support from Mennonites in Canada, people or organizations to connect with for guidance,” said Niemeyer, at the time a pastor of a Mennonite congregation.
He reached out to the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, a U.S. organization that seeks to cultivate an inclusive church.
They offered some assistance, but he wanted to connect with Canadian Mennonites who also identified as gay — something that was hard to do.
The experience prompted him and others to create In This Together, a support and resource group for Anabaptists who are part of the LGBTQ community in Canada.
The founders are Niemeyer and his partner, Mauricio Palacio, who are part of Toronto United Mennonite Church; Alissa Bender, pastor of Hamilton Mennonite Church in Ontario; Leah Harder of Community Mennonite Church in Stouffville, Ont.; and Matthew Froese of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Man.
The group began dreaming about a Canadian support network in 2019 after a conference called “Beyond Binaries: Creating an Affirming Church” at Waterloo North Mennonite Church in Ontario. The group continued to work while gathering online during the pandemic. They launched In This Together in 2022.
They are being supported by Mennonite Church Canada in their efforts. “We have a very positive working relationship with them,” Niemeyer said.
Palacio said Mennonite Brethren churches have reached out to them. They also want to connect with people in the Evangelical Mennonite and Evangelical Mennonite Mission conferences.
“We want to be a place where individuals and congregations can find support and resources, and be a catalyst for change,” Palacio said.
Why a Canadian network? “We have a different context and situation than in the U.S.,” Niemeyer said, noting that Canada doesn’t have the same political and cultural polarization. “Transgender people are not subject to political attacks to the same degree in Canada.”
BMC is a fine organization, he said, and the In This Together network will establish links to it.
“But being located in the U.S. and run by Americans, U.S. issues often dominate it, as they do other binational organizations,” he said.
Alissa Bender hopes the network will be a resource for pastors exploring how their congregations can be more welcoming of LGBTQ people.
“It can be so lonely for some pastors when they want to find out more about this topic,” she said.
Although the network is tied most closely to MC Canada, Bender looks forward to when other Mennonite groups see it as a resource. Its website is inthistogethernetwork.ca.