The Catholic Church has its orders of nuns, which go by such names as the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and Sisters of Mercy. And the Lower Mainland LGBT community has its Vancouver Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which is a 21st-century order of queer nuns that’s unaffiliated with any of the established churches.
“We are not gender specific,” Rev. Mother Diversity Rains told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We have males, we have females, we have gay, we have straight—all classes!”
The fully professed sisters are instantly recognizable by their painted white faces and distinct wimples, which look like a pair of white horns. In fact, Rains said they are a reference to the sails at Canada Place.
"The sacred white face is an expression of joy,” Rains added. “It provides for the population an indiscernible face that they can feel free talking to.”
Like their counterparts of in mainstream churches, the 18 Vancouver Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence work to improve the lives of those around them. A familiar presence at Pride marches from Vancouver to Abbotsford, they’ve raised funds for AIDS Vancouver, the Vancouver Food Bank, Gordon Neighbourhood House, STRUT Vancouver, Positive Living B.C., and other charities.
“We also have a street bar ministry,” Rains said. “We pass out condoms and chat with people.”
The first chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was founded in San Francisco in 1979 not only to perform good work, but also to satirize gender norms of the era and prevailing views on morality. They initially wore white faces to disguise themselves, but then discovered that this approach made it easier to make connections.
The Vancouver order is in its seventh year and has three goals: spreading universal joy, eradicating stigmatic guilt, and serving the community.
On Friday (July 28), some of the sisters will be in Maple Ridge for the opening of a new rainbow sidewalk. Then they’ll head over to Memorial Peace Park to commemorate the victims of the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“There’s a barbecue in the afternoon and in the evening, we’re doing a candlelight vigil—and the sisters are hosting that,” Rains said.
One of the fully professed members, Sister Alma Bitches, is a well-known drag performer. Others go by such names as Sister Tora Wholes, Sister Visa DeKline, and Sister Ethica Slüt—demonstrating that these queer nuns have a riotous sense of humour.
In addition to the fully professed members, there are other categories: novice sisters, paladins (who protect sisters when they’re in the community), cadet paladins, and postulants.
The Vancouver Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are all volunteers and do their work through a registered charity called the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe Society.
So are these sisters religious or secular? Rains said there is some spirituality, but nothing is defined.
“It’s not Catholic. It’s not Jewish. It’s not Muslim. It’s whoever that person is and what they feel comfortable with.”
Guilt-free, of course.