By Ruth Taylor
(Presented March 22, 2007, at Alexandria United Church, Alexandria, Ontario.)
This particular path of faith in my life began late in 1994 in my church, St. Andrew's Presbyterian, Lachine, Que. It was a rather small, active, faith congregation in the English sector of our small city, a suburb of Montreal.
The area was increasingly becoming French, good neighbours but ever lessening our chance of growing in numbers. Our concern was our need to focus on finances when we would have preferred to be focusing on being His hands, a Christian influence and help to our schools on either side of us, to the community in general.
But life abounds in challenge and we could not possibly foresee the scope of the one to face us.
I was a member of our Search Committee, and after two years we had made no progress. Then we welcomed an application that resulted in our church family more closely united than ever, The Presbyterian Church of Canada was shaken to its roots. Our faith in our national church tested.
This application came from Darryl MacDonald, Master of Divinity, a Licentiate of the Montreal Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
He had come to Montreal from his home church in Sydney N. S., to complete his studies for the ministry at McGill University and Presbyterian College, while attending St. Columba Presbyterian Church, Pointe Claire, a nearby suburb. He was fully appreciated there by the ministry staff and the congregation.
After meeting with him our hopes were high - we could not believe our good fortune. We carefully checked all his references, which were impeccable. He had been active on a part- time basis for ten years within the Montreal Presbytery.
We called him to meet with us a second time to discuss further. At this time he told us he was a Homosexual with a fully committed relationship with his partner.
That didn't dissuade us at all, and it was with much enthusiasm that we recommended him to our Session and our congregation, who then were in complete agreement.
At the regular meeting of the Montreal Presbytery, April 1995, we made our request that Darryl MacDonald be called to our church and therefore ordained. In the Presbyterian Church the local Presbytery must first ratify a call to a church before proceeding to ordain.
This became our first introduction to the trouble that loomed ahead. There was a lengthy procedural wrangling but finally the vote was taken. By over 2/3 rds majority it was declared a Gospel call. We felt so happy, so thankful, and excited about our future.
Unfortunately this was followed by a dissent and appeal made to the National church. Darryl's outstanding attributes were disregarded.
The problem of being without a minister was solved by Presbytery approval of Darryl's accepting to fill in as Interim part-time Supply.
His preaching was top-notch, inspiring - his warm caring for the families - his good humour and infectious laugh was just what we needed. Added to this he had a McGill trained singing voice which he shared.
The General Assembly in Charlottetown arrived and our delegate delivered an open letter, a presentation and Video, pleading to our brothers and sisters from coast to coast to help us by honouring the decisions of St. Andrew's Lachine and the Montreal Presbytery.
Regardless, the vote was a shocking 227-24 against Darryl being ordained, thus setting a precedent by denying Presbytery to sustain the call.
A committee of 9 was formed to examine the recommendations of General Assembly.
The National Church Pastoral Care Committee made a visit to our congregation. We were pleased to welcome them. We were encouraged to speak freely, and we did.
It was a very emotional meeting, our members for the first time able to express the anguish, emotional outrage, and sense of fi~tion to which we had all been subjected, and about our future hopes.
Quoting one member - he put it in a nutshell - the congregation saw Darryl as
a Teacher to our children
the Visitor to the sick
Not Darryl the Homosexual.
This Pastoral Care Committee was very understanding and recommended to the Montreal Presbytery that no precipitive steps be taken that would break up the wholly supportive relationship between Darryl and our congregation.
In the meantime there was a leaking to the Press of the General Assembly negative report. We had been sworn to silence on the issue and agreed wholeheartedly. We did not want publicity. However, we were in the news, due to no fault of our own. The Montreal Gazette, the Globe and Mail, La Presse Montreal, all took interest.
Following the initial " leaking" a Montreal Gazette reporter called persistently for comments - she was going to write a story whether or not we had input. For this reason we were given permission by Presbytery.
Her initial headline in large print was " Openly Gay Preacher Rankles Church Hierarchy".
T'his reporter came to the church by permission following our service - after speaking to several members was directed to me. I was quoted in the newspapers the next day, and my brother learned about it in the French paper, in the Laurentions.
My comments, in part, were that ". we had been so set in our ways, and were considering what changes we could make, but when change came it was in a big way - a bolt out of the blue, with receiving of Darryl's excellent application.
Others enthusiastically called Darryl MacDonald a wonderful caring person - they were impressed by his compassion. They really felt he had a true calling.
CBC had us on their television news, and I was shown approaching the church with my cane, indicative of the age of the congregation.
T'hus - Darryl MacDonald, dedicated Christian, and preacher, with a calling to the ministry, emerged as Darryl MacDonald Homosexual - but not to us.
Our church life was full, busy as ever, but we were not forgotten. The appointed committee of 9 came to Montreal twice, one meeting at our church, one at Presbyterian College. We attended with great interest and great hope.
Unlovely, unkind words were spoken by some who obviously feared his homosexuality, and we listened with utter dismay. Darryl was present but said not a word. To us it was heart breaking. NO Christian deserves this disdain!
We were able to ask many questions, one being " Why was there an objection now to his answering a call, when he held his license to do so. The answer really shook us up " We didn't think he'd tell " - Simply that.
The Montreal Presbytery made their own objection known. They had the historic right to process a call, and this was now being denied - a Precedent. "When, it asked, is the General Assembly free to do this ?"
In spite of it all, the committee's vote of 5-4 was upheld in favour of denying ordination to Darryl MacDonald, and therefore denying our church call.
The four members of this appointed committee - those in the minority, stated that Darryl's only 'sin' was honesty - he is not a category of person but an individual with a deep sense of God's call, faithful to commitment to the church, and a recognized gift of ministry".
We continued our church work as if under no pressure. We requested Darryl's part time hours be increased to full time. We obtained the permission though with rumblings.
Nevertheless, all too soon we were called to a special meeting by Presbytery, regarding the General Assembly decision after the report of the committee 5-4.
We were ordered officially to remove Darryl from our pulpit. We were given no opportunity to ask questions - for the chairman and accompanying elder had left.
The cold finality stunned us.
Darryl again insisted there be no bitterness, and to keep our faith.
It was such a strange time - peace within our church yet a storm raging outside. I think it wasn't defiance we felt but a very real sadness, yet a very sure knowing that it was right to continue with our very special minister.
We hope that we have helped open the door to full inclusiveness within the Presbyterian Church and in general.
At our Kirk Session meeting Darryl's devotion began with " These are not the actions of people who have given up, but the actions of committed people, who have heard the words " Be strong and let your heart take courage, all who wait for the Lord" - quoting Psalm 31.
We advised Presbytery by fax that we individually and collectively would be continuing as we have been by reason that we did not accept this decision.
We were immediately served with directives that our action would be considered an act of defiance.
We carried on, as St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Lachine Independent and prayed that the National Church would before long adopt it's own Subordinate Standards that " Justice opposes prejudice in every form" (from their "Living Faith" Chapter 8 verse 4).
We were aware of the seriousness of what we had done but each had examined ourselves closely and believed we did as we knew was right.
This was 1998 and we were now free, after the initial shock, to fulfill our mission to the community and to move forward.
But first the final formal ending: A minister representing Presbytery with an attending Elder chaired a final meeting together with our clerk of session to hold a formal vote. We were advised again that to continue with Darryl in the pulpit would place the Session and each elder in violation of their ordination and result in disciplinary charges. Each member was also included in the warning.
The Vote by secret ballot was for;
A: - to remain, and cease and desist from our contumacious behavior.
B: - to leave the Presbyterian Church of Canada and we would be wished God speed.
The result was that a clear majority of our members voted "B" though heartrending, especially those who had been life long Presbyterians as had their forefathers. We felt the sympathy of the minister who presided.
We lost 8 valuable members at that time, seven of whom wished to remain in the National church, even though they were supporters of Darryl.
In February of the next year, 1999, a magnificent " Service of Blessing and Recognition" was held in our packed Sanctuary.
There were 40 clergy present and 250 lay people from near and far who poured out their love and support for our minister D@l and for our congregation. What a celebration!
The "laying on of hands" on Darryl was tantamount to ordination, we considered, and henceforth he was the Rev. Darryl MacDonald.
Our church life continued meaningfully - Bible Studies were held; much beautiful music enriched us; Darryl held Celtic Meditation Services monthly on Sunday evenings which were rich experiences.
I was proud to be the attending elder in a new Baptismal Ceremony initiated by Darryl. The baby baptized was my great grandson Benjamin, grandson of my daughter Pam Hellstrom.
We now recognized our finances were not sufficient to maintain our present building, and we looked into future possibilities.
We received a letter from Summerlea United Church, during the time of Rev. Dean Moffat, with an invitation to meet and discuss our possible future together. We did this and chose to hold separate services in their building, renting the needed space, (our wish).
Before this huge move we held our final service at our beautiful building June 24 2001. Hearts were heavy with memories but full of hope for our future. We left that building, but we the church moved on to a new location.
We were warmly welcomed to Summerlea. The cooperation between our two congregations was excellent, greatly helped and encouraged by their Rev. Howard Clark.
We immediately were asked to join their Outreach Committee. I did, with one or two others of our members. Our cooperating grew to other areas, and to our holding joint services.
For the last five years, with our encouragement, Darryl had been studying and preparing to become a United Church minister. He was ordained at the beautiful historic St. James United Church downtown Montreal in the fall of 2004.
Many Summerlea folk joined with us at that absolutely memorable event, 10 years after our first interview. What a journey that had been.
A not-to-be forgotten ceremony was in held in Summerlea, to officially designate the closing of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Independent Congregation, in November of that year (2004). Shortly after, January 2005, we were officially welcomed as members of the United Church of Canada, our minister to be Rev. Howard Clark, our congregation now partners with the congregation of Summerlea United.
One hall at Summerlea is now named St. Andrew's and one day one of our stained glass windows, perhaps with a light behind, will be installed on a wall there.
(Ed Note 2007/07/09. The Summerlea sanctuary south window is now fitted with St. Andrew's stained glass windows, and a wall under construction behind the choir will be fitted with three more. Two have gone to Wyman Memorial United Church in Hudson, and two others to Christ Church United in Two Mountains - Darryl's church.)
Darryl MacDonald is now minister of the Christ Church United in Lake of Two Mountains, a half hour away from Summerlea United in Lachine.
Looking back at those years of struggle we are forever thankful for our minister Darryl who gave us ten years of life as an active, meaningful church. We had, before his arrival on the scene, predicted three years.
I must mention the huge moral support we had received from so many in the Presbytery and further away. The clergy in Lachine and all along our Montreal West Island accepted Darryl freely as our minister. Our finances had been helped from donations from individuals across the country who encouraged us. We were blest.
I did not decide to go against the National Church, but rather to stand up for the right of inclusiveness, the equality of each person, a child of God.
I am proud to have been ordained an elder by Darryl, proud that he Baptized my great- grandson, and thankful that he came here to Alexandria to conduct the funeral service of my son-in-law John Hellstrom, in 2001.
I feel as if my husband should have been with me on this walk. Perhaps he was.
Now I am most happy and thankful to be part of the Church-on-the Hill with its warm and welcoming congregation and with Rev. Gwen Hennann, Andrew Love, and Charles Barnhardt and choir.
Darryl is an Associate of the Celtic Iona Community, and believes, as they do, that his journey is into the Heart of God.
I would like to conclude with the Celtic prayer Darryl first said in our Service of Recognition and Blessing -
Christ above us; Christ beneath us, Christ on our right, Christ on our left,
Christ when we lie down; Christ when we sit down,
Christ when we arise; Christ to shield us,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of us,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of us.