Laughter, Lyrics & Losing My Religion

Pam Rocker’s return to faith on the condition she could bring a few friends along. 

The McDougall Sanctuary is one of the more unlikely places Pam Rocker has ever sang “Real True Love” her ode to relationships from a realist’s perspective. The lyrics are a stark contrast from the extreme “I’d catch a grenade for you” and other choruses that don’t seem to tell the actual tale of what lengths you go to for your partner. 

A regular on the Calgary comedy circuit with what she describes as a “queer, feminist ukulele band” Rocker steps into her new role as Director of Family & Spiritual Development by drawing the parallels between a comedy routine and a Sunday service. 

“I don’t want to be bored when I go to church just like I don’t want to be bored when I go to the theatre or a comedy show. Definitely, rituals are important to me -  but it’s also important that messages are meaningful and engaging,” said Rocker. 

“I just really believe in the power of creative mediums and in comedy and the arts. It makes difficult subjects easy to understand and explores certain complexities in ways that are fun, interesting and sacred.” 

Rocker has 15 years of experience working with faith communities. Originally from Texas, she moved to Canada and worked with the Evangelical Church. With a Baptist and Methodist upbringing, she knew coming out wasn’t going to happen with her role at the church. She left, came out shortly after, and began a process of “undoing” and never expected to return to a church again.  

In 2009, Rocker had become an active member of the city’s LGBTQ community. She was involved with Calgary Pride and heard about a church with a rainbow flag on its sign. Alone, she walked up the stone steps to Hillhurst United Church, in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood. It was the very day Hillhurst became an Affirming Ministry. 

“I didn’t know anybody there, but I think it was like divine chance. I was reading about it becoming Affirming in the bulletin and I didn’t know what it meant. Then it unfolded. I had been out for a while, I was on the Pride Parade board and super gay everywhere, but I didn’t see a space for me in the faith community until then,” said Rocker.  

With Hillhurst, Rocker had discovered the ethos of the United Church. She felt refreshed to be part of a faith community that stood for what she believed in and accepted her with all she didn’t know or had yet to learn.

“You don’t have to come with all the answers, you can come and belong and figure out all the other stuff without a timeline. Coming from my background of being sort of evangelical and more on a restricted belief system, being part of the United Church really fit me a lot better, and affirmed the kind of faith I could get behind,” said Rocker. 

By 2010, Rocker was working for a church again, in a Media and Communications role. As the focus on being an Affirming Ministry grew, she was tasked with reaching out to the LGBTQ community and others as the Affirming Lead. Rocker partnered with other Affirming churches, arts groups, Calgary Theatre and other social justice non-profit organizations, to offer workshops and entertainment opportunities to the public. The programs were accessible and unconventional for churches, but they helped the ministry grow in a way that others from around Canada are still asking how Hillhurst did it. She hopes to do the same at McDougall to tap into the surrounding community and every corner of Calgary. 

“We all have a spiritual yearning, but in a lot of different ways barriers have been put up. So what are those barriers to belonging? It could be someone feeling like they’re not the right age, or they don’t look right or they have a different family situation.”

“We could break down those barriers with new and different programs that make people feel like they are really honoured, and like they can work out their spiritual practices among a community, they don’t have to do it alone,” said Rocker.  

One of the first programs Rocker is introducing is the “Soul Pancake Sessions” a speaker and discussion series that uses creative mediums and a dash of humour to tackle topics such as identity, religion and vice and virtues. It runs from October 15 to November 19 at McDougall United Church.