My Ministry with the Queer community,
The Unitarian Fellowship,
Fredericton, NB, 22 January 2006.
It is a privilege to be here, to be so warmly introduced by David Warman. I am very
grateful to this community for its stand for queer (glbt) persons. The fact that there was
a gay wedding here yesterday attests to the stance of this community in these matters. I
loved, as well, the song sung by Nasnan Noqtok at the opening of the service. As you
may know, I was asked to be invited here; and I'm so gratified that I was invited!
I'm a minister, so there's a text. It's coming!
A few years ago, I was invited to give an address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was to
be on the Covenanters, I had written a book about the Covenanters in NB and NS in the
past (The Chignecto Covenanters [Montreal & Kingston],1997). The Covenanters were a
small Presbyterian group, once active, now gone - and present-day Covenanters in the
USA invited me to take part in a conference. I was thrilled. I prepared as best I could -
I had that lecture ready weeks in advance. Well before the weekend, I was prepared.
Flying out on Monday, I had my plane ticket in hand.
On Friday, I got a special delivery letter; I was uninvited. They did not want me to
come. The reason - someone had found out on the internet that I was involved with
PFLAG Canada, an organization that affirmed that being gay was okay - so - no way,
Eldon Hay. The letter was followed by a phone call, to make certain I'd received the
letter. The ticket was cancelled; Monday I had a car ride to Aulac, NB, not a plane
trip to Pittsburgh, PA.
I was devastated. I emailed a close friend in Louisville, Kentucky - Sandra and her
partner had been friends during an earlier time when they worked in NS. Sandra sent
back a longish email.
I understand your disappointment, you worked hard at that. But look at it from
another point of view. Dear Eldon, you cannot expect to stand up for marginalised
people, persons on the edge, folk who are despised and not be there yourself. If you're
friends of gays and lesbians: and if gays and lesbians are hated and despised, then it
should be no surprise that you, too, are hated and despised. Jesus asked his disciples to
walk along side the least - those despised and excluded from normal society. And Jesus
didn't just talk the talk, he showed in his everyday meetings and relationships that he
cared for and was on the side of lepers, women, disabled, and others on the edge. As a
result, he was despised.
I invite you as a Christian to think about this, pray about it. You will overcome your
keen disappointment; and look at the matter very differently. You know the beatitudes,
of course. I type out a part of one of them: 'Blessed are you when people revile you, and
persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and
Eldon I have a challenge for you. Use your understanding and, some day, unpack
that particular blessing for yourself and for others. Right now, I have an easier
question - you've always been concerned about persons on the edge. Where did that get
Blessings and peace, Sandra Mlinarcik.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds
of evil against you on falsely my account. Rejoice and be glad ... (Matt. 5: 11, 12a). For
some time that text has rolled round in my head, now I tackle it - 'I believe it, help thou
my unbelief.' But I start with Sandra's question: 'I know you've always been concerned
with persons on the edge. Where did that get started?'
It started - who knows where? I have a few clues.
1) my father. We lived in small place, Marvelville was a hamlet some 40 miles from
Ottawa. All English, all United Church. Except a few French families, sort of on the
edge. Even though we were all poor, the three or four French families were poorer. And
everybody knew that we were better than the French. Everybody - except my father. He
actually stood up for them in conversations. As a kid, I was embarrassed and ashamed
of him, he must be wrong, everybody knows we're better than the French. But my father
persisted. He did something else unusual - he switched political parties. That meant that
M.J. Coldwell (an early leader of the CCF) visited our home when I was a child.
2) My Sunday School teacher, Anne Wood. A nurse in Montreal, she came back to live
in Marvelville to look after her elderly parents, living there with her bachelor brother
all their days. She was my Sunday School teacher from when I was 3 or 4, til I left
Marvelville. To her, doing the will of God was the most important thing in life. Of
course, being unmarried in a rural community, earned her the title old maid: lots of
snide remarks were said about her, behind her back, and sometimes to her face. She was
often lonely. It wasn't easy. To her happiness was not the goal in life: but to do God's
3) A meeting with a Toronto headquarters man in my early days of ministry. His name
was Rev. J.R. Hord. (When Lester Pearson okayed nuclear warheads on Canada's soil,
Hord accused him of being a puppy on a leash held by President Lyndon B. Johnson). I
met Hord once, at a meeting. I remember a segment. A small group was seated around
Being a Christian, said Hord,
gives me elbow room. Being a follower of
Jesus means I'm somehow free, I don't need to think or dress or speak or be like
everybody else. Look, I've got elbow room.
4) Another meeting with a headquarters person, earlier than that with Hord. I was at a
presbytery meeting, being visited by Rev. Dr. J. R. Mutchmor. He gave a talk. he told us
he met one day at the Toronto airport by the then premier of Ontario, Leslie Frost:
both about to board planes. The premier asked him,
Well Mutchmor, where are you
off to, today, raising hell? It's okay to raise hell, in God's service.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely on my account - that means, falsely on Christ's account. I believe
from the bottom of my heart that God loves gays and lesbians, with the same love God
loves straight men and women. There are those, of course, who from the bottoms of
their hearts believe I'm wrong. The American Covenanters know I'm acting falsely,
know that what I do is evil. We disagree on what God's will is. I try to respect those
who disagree; but it does not stop me from standing up for, and speaking out for God's
children - French persons in Moncton, or Jews, or women, or (what I am best known
for now) gays and lesbians.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you: Blessed are you when people
revile you. I often feel reviled, but I am not persecuted. I get hate mail and hate phone
calls, and sometimes face-to-face hatred. Okay, I'm reviled. But not persecuted. The
United Church has never threatened to defrock me, or persecute me. No one has said:
shut up, or I'll shoot you and your family.
Blessed I am when people revile me. I'm blessed because a lot of that reviling I never
hear, it doesn't get through to me. Why? Because my friends absorb it, take it in, in
their own hearts and minds. And they don't tell me what the revilings are. Thanks for
not telling me. Because these revilings hurt.
I am blessed when people revile me. I pay particular tribute to Rev. Jamie Gripton, who
was my minister for about a decade - Rev. Jamie Gripton - to whom this sermon is
dedicated. Jamie Gripton died of cancer, not yet 50, early in December 2005. Blessedly,
it has came to me several months before he died that he has been one of those who,
because of his absorbing this reviling, has made my life a blessing. It was a remarkable
facet of Jamie's ministry. He was able to listen to persons who disagreed with me
profoundly. He listened: and yet he did not collude with these persons, in their sincerely
felt and expressed opposition to gay rights. He listened: and refused to put such persons
down or think of them as stupid or wrong. And yet, privately and in public, from time to
time he stated his belief in what I was trying to do. Therefore, I felt consistently
supported and upheld, blessed by that man's ministry. This is unusual in my experience.
True, other clergy are occasionally supportive: they speak to me privately or send me
emails expressing this. But few actually say so, in the pulpit or in public. Far more
normal is the attitude expressed in a letter from one United Church colleague:
you realize how abhorrent homosexual activity is to some people, and how utterly
destructive to their mindset for worship is the specific mention of that sexual behaviour.
I respect this statement: for it sets out clearly what I hunch many Christians think and
believe, though few have the honesty to admit it.
Blessed am I when people revile me. The revilings come from all over the place. The ones
that hurt me most are from fellow Christians, fellow United Church persons. I'm
reminded of Lorne
Gump Worsley, who at one time was goalie of the New York
Rangers hockey team. The Rangers had a porous defence, and Worsley was a very busy
goalie. One time a reporter, thinking of all the opposing teams - Boston Bruins, Detroit
Red Wings, etc., asked Worsley,
Gump, which team do you fear the worst? Without a
moment's hesitation, Worsley replied,
The New York Rangers! That's what it feels like.
And it's often tempting to act on that feeling - but it's only a feeling. The reality is that
there are always allies, supporters.
I am blessed in the reviling because I am never alone. Even in a hostile congregation or
audience, large or small, when all the comments and questions indicate that most persons
have little or no use for my convictions - after the meeting, over tea, in a corner,
sometimes with low voices -
I'm with you.
You won't say a word - I'm gay
myself. There are revilers, but there are supporters too. I am never alone. I am also
blessed by persons from minority groups. From my beginning days of human rights in
Moncton, there have been a few members of Tiferes Israel synagogue who have early,
warmingly and consistently stood up for me. I am truly blessed.
I am blessed in the reviling because I believe that what I stand for is what God stands
Of course, as my friend Sandra said, Jesus walked with the unclean, the unliked, the
unpopular. We have Christ's example.
What shall we then say to these things? If God
be for us, who is against us? (Rom: 8.31). The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius'
views are helpful to me. Confucius is not considered a great believer: but he had a
distinct sense that the conscience within persons accorded with the moral order of the
universe. (H.G. Creel, Confucius and the Chinese Way [Harper's, 1949], 117). Likewise, I
am sustained by a belief in the goodness and the grace of God, whose love is at the
centre of the universe; and whose love, we believe, is made most clear in the life and
death of Jesus. Those convictions are kept alive by prayer, by spiritual guidance, by
worship - especially by the hymns of the Church; they are nourished by empathetic
allies and friends, by my dear partner, Anne Pirie.
I am blessed, even though reviled, upheld by a belief in God. However, it is not my
practice to speak or write a great deal using religious language. First, though the
example of Jesus is before us, that witness has been tainted by an ages-old creedal
conviction. Jesus is reported as asking,
Why do you call me good? No one is good but
God alone (Mk. 10:18). The perfection of Jesus is a great theological mistake, I've long
since abandoned it, , but it lingers on in my mind and the minds of many others. So I use
the example of Jesus sparingly. Nor do I often quote the Bible. A few times, I've played
with scriptural passages, and swiftly drawn the wrath of some Christian friends.
Dare to follow Jesus: the 'dare' is not necessarily served best in our day by pointing to
Christ: Jesus lived a long time ago, in a different time and culture, he died young. I look
to more recent figures, Christ-like in their behaviour - some of them Christian, some not.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Christian standing against the culture of his time.
Are there Canadian heroes? Pre-eminently I look to Henry Morgentaler. A man
imprisoned in Germany and in Canada. A Jew, who is a self-declared humanist, an
atheist. For decades, he has persisted as a provider of safe abortions for many Canadian
women. I look up to him for he is not always a nice person - that's a solid comfort,
neither am I. He was recently awarded an honorary degree by the University of Western
Ontario, London . A professor who had spent his career there said,
I have always been
proud of my University, today I am ashamed. For me, Morgentaler stands tall, and
firm; even if persons despise him and his work. Another recent fleeting example: I see
the tall, gaunt, wispy face of Chuck Cadman, spurned by his party, running as an
independent, sick with cancer, standing alone, to vote. A few weeks later, dead.
Blessed I am when reviled; and in the company of some of my fellow Canadians I more
fully rejoice. I go to church and to church events, to community and regional happenings.
There's always friends and allies there. But where Anne and I feel really at home -
wanted, cherished and loved - is in the gay lesbian bisexual and transgender community.
Sometimes, we are the only senior couple there - at weddings or gatherings for new
babies, for instance. Recently, in Halifax, at a small chapel, two lesbian women greeted
us warmly at the door, and the one we knew best said,
Sit up close to the front, we
don't know how many people will come. That woman's parents did not come. There are
other more colourful, even raucous gatherings - Pride marches and the like. Gays and
lesbians are no better and no worse than other Canadians - but, thank God, in their
midst, we are welcomed, accepted, loved, we're at home. Revilings there have been and
there will be again. But in that company - we rejoice; we are glad - thanks be to God!
Blessed I am when reviled. If God be for us, who can be against us? God loving,
gracious. Love is the first word for God; but the grace of God is first, last and always.
I'm aware, particularly in my relationship within the church, in congregation or in
presbytery that there were and are hurts, disappointments, misunderstandings,
commitments called for, commitments broken - the stuff and substance of what we call
brokennness - sin. I have often fallen short: sometimes I feel I might just as well be hung
for a sheep as a lamb. Sin I commit: but grace more abounds. So I count utterly on the
grace of God. Our first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald met a person who said,
I'm your supporter. I'll support you every time you do right. MacDonald replied,
Hold on a minute. I've got lots of support when I'm right. What I need are persons to
support me when I'm wrong (Will Ferguson,
Lessons from Sir John, eh? Maclean's,
11 Jan 2002). I experience God as supporter in and through the good and the bad, the
cheerings and revilings. We are not alone, we live in God's world. We rejoice, we are
glad - thanks be to God!