Three Colleges – The United Theological College, The Montreal Diocesan Theological College and The Presbyterian College, Montreal – are gathering May 7 to celebrate their respective Convocations and 100 years together as the Montreal School of Theology.
The Right Reverend Dr. Gary Paterson, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, will be an honoured guest of United Theological College as recipient of the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award, named for my brother who died in May, 2007.
Craig’s loved ones marvel that his Award, to honour the achievements, projects and ministries of openly LGBTQI persons, will be going to the spiritual leader of the Church less than a generation after the historic approval of LGBT ordination in the United Church of Canada. How thrilled Craig would be!
In a letter to UTC Principal Philip Joudrey, confirming the terms of reference for the Award, Craig wrote:
“…it is my intention and desire that this award be presented in recognition of the particular ministries of (LGBT) people both within the formal, organized structures of the Christian Church and without…choosing to honour those whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear embodiment of such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice and a sustainable environment, and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized.”
Additional Convocation honours will be bestowed by the other participating colleges and the Convocation Address will be delivered by renowned United Church of Canada theologian Douglas Hall.
To be held at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, on the edge of the McGill University neighbourhood, this will be the first joint Convocation of the three Colleges – and marking 100 years of The Montreal School of Theology is an occasion for a grand celebration!
That is all!
Rev Shaun Fryday has been selected by Montreal’s United Theological College to receive the award, established by my late brother, at the UTC Convocation on May 8th, 2013. Fittingly, the ceremonies will take place in Shaun’s congregation of Beaconsfield United Church. When he received the news, Shaun is said to have been deeply moved, recalling Craig as one of his closest friends and how the award makes Craig seem “very present”. Craig died on May 9, 2007 as the result of a fall fifteen days earlier which caused traumatic brain injuries. Like me, he had been retired since the mid-1990s when the stress and fatigue of living with HIV had become too much to bear in his capacity as a United Church minister in west-end Montreal. It was shortly thereafter that he first made plans to establish the award, which would follow his death.
In a letter to the college, in which he outlined terms of reference for the award, Craig wrote:
“…it is my intention and desire that this award be presented in recognition of the particular ministries of gay and lesbian people both within the formal, organized structures of the Christian Church and without…to honour those whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear embodiment of such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice and a sustainable environment and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized. “The conditions of eligibility for potential recipients of this award are intentionally and necessarily exclusive in one important respect – the person being honoured must be able and willing to be publicly recognized as a lesbian or gay man. I am sadly aware of the fact that because of the current climate within some churches and certain elements of our society, this condition effectively excludes a good many competent and highly gifted people who are eminently deserving but who do not feel they can risk coming out of the closet at this time. I am all too aware of the oppression many of them suffer and the peculiar irony in the fact that I am creating an award for which I myself would not have been eligible for most of my professional career in the Church because of my own inability during those years to be safely and publicly self-declared as a gay man.”
Craig went on to say that he believed the award would have the potential to create positive, visible role models for gay and lesbian Christians. He poignantly recalled the United Church’s much-debated decision in 1988 to no longer exclude LGBT persons from consideration as ministers. The final decision was made at a Church-wide council meeting in Victoria, which Craig attended with much trepidation, referring to LGBT members in the third person. Much has, thankfully, changed since then – the Church evenly electing an openly gay man as Moderator last August! In nominating Shaun, his congregation cited his vision and commitment to numerous social justice initiatives, from guiding the parish in becoming an LGBT-affirming congregation to the creation two years ago of an LGBTQ Youth Centre, a first for Montreal’s West Island (and for any church!). The centre has more recently expanded its outreach to family members of the LGBTQ community as well as to LGBT adults seeking to break out of isolation. A couple of paragraphs from a congregation member’s supporting letter speak volumes:
“…after working at the front lines of the African AIDS epidemic I needed solace and community…Shaun was not only open about his sexuality, he was willing to explore the injustices the world visited on LGBTQ people and explore how the experience of being ‘different’ in the world might offer us all opportunity to live more compassionately and justly… “But I also would like to make clear that Reverend Fryday does not confine his zeal for social justice in ministry merely to issues directly impacting the LGBTQ population and their families. He has been a fierce advocate for the indigenous people of the Philippines, and has determinedly brought their plight into our consciousness at Beaconsfield United Church. Indigenous communities in far away places are easy communities for comfortable Canadians to ignore. But Reverend Fryday has demonstrated that to do so is merely to perpetuate the systems of inequality that plague our planet, destroy communities and, ultimately, our planet. And when injustices on this scale occur, we cannot be silent.”
Shaun’s c.v. concludes, “I have a number of leisure activities that I enjoy pursuing. Particularly, I am an avid reader, I enjoy writing, and I love to cook (and eat!)” Shaun is a tall, and in other ways, large man – self-deprecating, too! His hospitality figured prominently in the agonizing days that Craig lay dying in Montreal’s Neurological Institute. Craig’s partner, Claude, and sister Lynn kept constant vigil each day asking other would-be visitors (other than we siblings) to respect their privacy. With understanding and compassion illustrative of his pastoral care, Shaun prepared and delivered delicious home-cooked meals a considerable distance each day to the walk-up Craig and Claude shared in the “Le Plateau” district. I was privileged to partake in some of these meals, both in Montreal and Perth (those we took up there for Craig’s burial). Craig’s family is proud to anticipate Shaun receiving this award!
To recognize the powerful and passionate ministries of gay and lesbian persons and to honour one whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear commitment to such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice, a sustainable environment and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized.
Now I’m not making an early pitch for next year’s award but I can imagine that Craig would be pleased and proud of the United Church General Council’s choice of openly gay Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson as Moderator for the next three years. In fact, he was one of three openly gay candidates in a record field of fifteen nominees.
Craig was not completely open with his sexuality right up until he took his early retirement, at which time, it turned out, his parishioners were far more concerned for his health and well-being than his sexual orientation. He had been able to come out to many people in his congregation over the years when he thought it would be helpful but I know he took something of an envious delight in me being as open as I have been for so long.
The United Church of Canada broke new ground, and cracked open parched, dusty ground, when in 1988 – twenty-four years ago – its General Council decided, by no means unanimously, that every Christian, regardless of sexual orientation, was not only welcome in the church but was “eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.”
Craig was at that assembly in 1988, speaking of sexual orientation in the third person, feeling the slings and arrows of the often acrimonious debate. In light of all the love which surrounded us when he died, and the wonderful memories of Craig his parishioners shared, it is still so painful to imagine what that meeting in Victoria must have been like for him and other lgbt colleagues.
That was then. This is now. Although my direct relationship with the United Church has never been the same since Craig’s death, I applaud the decision-makers who re-affirmed the church’s 1988 decision in such a big way.
When Craig died five years ago today he could not have ordained that his memory would loom large during this week each year as the award in his name is presented at today`s Convocation ceremonies of United Theological College.
He would not have chosen, for Mom`s sake at least, to die so close to his birthday, either, this Sunday – yes, Mother`s Day, just like it was in 2007.
But it is what it is.
Skies are considerably brighter in Montréal today.
While the sting of the first few years of grief has lessened considerably, this is one of those days when missing Craig is quite a bit more intense.
This spring’s presentation of the award in my brother’s memory will include a couple of firsts – two individuals are being cited and they’re from across the Canada-U.S. border in neighbouring Vermont.
To be more accurate, one-half of the couple of Dr. Delores Barbeau and Carol Olstad, R.N. will be honoured posthumously as Carol, who incidentally was a Canadian born in Alberta, unfortunately died last October in their adopted home of Weston, Vermont.
The two met in 1983 while working in strife-torn Bolivia, Delores as a Maryknoll nun-turned-physician and Carol a registered nurse working under the auspices of the Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board.
Delores had only lived and worked with Bolivians since 1969 and, given the political climate, knew how much safer it would be to avoid becoming attached to Carol.
Bolivian authorities were already suspicious, to say the least, of church aid workers in their midst (let alone white North Americans); not easily dissuaded from their presumptions of CIA connections. Imagine if they knew they were lesbians!
But the Bolivian Ministry of Health assigned the two to work together, within a year of their first meeting, in a remote tropical jungle.
Not more than a year later the government had put Delores on a hit list and the two fled Bolivia, travelling to Nicaragua to work for five years alongside the people defending their dignity and rights against American-backed rebel forces out to destroy the successful Sandinista government. (This corrects my earlier history-fogged equating of the rebels as the more courageous side to be on!)
In 1991 Delores and Carol returned to the United States, first New York and Massachusetts and then Vermont, sharing their lives openly as a couple while continuing to live the “social gospel” lessons of their respective faiths, even if no longer so affiliated. (They have since enjoyed the community of the Monks of Western Priory in Vermont where Carol was solemnly and happily remembered following her death in October of last year.)
In a letter to loved ones about her experiences, Delores concludes:
So. That was Bolivia.
What was it like?
It changed my life forever.
I learned to love.
I learned to look at things in a new way and walked in many different shoes.
I learned other definitions for family.
I learned that there were priorities.
I learned to dance.
I stood before mass graves, and buried many friends.
I learned what fear really felt like.
…and in all of this I never knew a time when I did not know God.
The 2012 Convocation of United Theological College, during which the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award is presented (and Delores will deliver the Convocation Address), will be held at Summerlea United Church on Wednesday, May 9 – five years to the day since Craig’s death.
With such an early spring, maybe his favourite irises will be in bloom.