Shaun Fryday, whose faith community emulates his personal hospitality, to be this year’s recipient of the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award


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!

I’m sure that Craig would be proud of his United Church of Canada electing a gay man as Moderator


The criteria my brother Craig set out for the United Theological College award in his name reads in part:

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.

Craig`s timing


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.

Not pictured


I am mindful, on this Father’s Day, that I do not have many photographs of Thomas Arnold (“Arnie”) Chaplin.  (The additional ones I do have are wedding party shots with people who might not wish to be published.)  However my memory informs me of many more, in safe-keeping with Mom, from the honeymoon phase, the beginnings of our family, and so on – and more of them in colour!  However, due to the limitations of our cameras of that time (not to mention the cruelty of those large adhesive photo album pages of the 1970s) some colours have faded or been peeled off entirely.  I hope to, however, do my level best to increase my scanned, uploaded collection in future visits with Mom.

The four pictures up top are of Dad on his wagon in Glen Tay, Bathurst Township, Lanark County, Ontario (just west of the Town of Perth), followed by Dad holding my sister Lynn (and a wide-eyed Craig on his right), Dad (at my sister’s age in the previous photo) held in the arms of my grandmother on the farm with older members of his family, and in the fourth picture I am in Dad’s right arm, Lynn in his left, and Craig with the obviously rosy-cheeked grin on the right.

Not pictured is the devoted, hard-working guy I grew up with whose daily routine was almost like clockwork.

He was the first up in the morning (7:10) and, therefore, the first to use our bathroom – so tiny by today’s standards with exactly enough room for a toilet, sink and tub.  Before I was of school age I remember standing on the toilet watching him shave in the mirror.  By 7:25 or so he was eating breakfast with the rest of us in a kitchen-dinette which, again, used every inch of space optimally.  At 7:50 Dad was at the car-port door with Mom, a wet-sounding peck was exchanged along with the daily farewell, “Toodle-oo”  (No wonder spell-check has trouble with that.)  I don’t know how that word entered their vernacular – I must remember to ask Mom.

Dad was fortunate to live about ten or fifteen minutes from work and, as a result, he never failed to drive home at lunch.  This was great when I was in elementary school since we also came home for lunch.  After he ate he laid down on the sofa where, without napping, he managed to have a rest that most working nowadays, and many then, would envy.

At 12:50 Mom and Dad repeated their morning good-bye ritual and Dad was gone until about 5:10 when his 1959 Ford Fairlane, 1968 Buick Special or 1973 Impala drove up the slight incline of our driveway.

Not pictured is the father who, without the perks of a company dental plan, managed to pay for trips to Montreal for Craig and me for braces, in Craig’s case, and then braces – and a whole lot more – for me when I smashed my mouth on the cement foundation of school playground equipment.  (Mom’s income as a piano teacher helped, too, I know.)  Together they also put all four kids through university or college.

Not pictured is the Dad who – together with Mom – calmly accepted, with no outward signs of difficulty, both his sons disclosing that we were gay (four years apart, just like our ages) AND, no more than ten years later, that we were HIV-positive.

‘Unconditional love is what we have to offer,’

says (Dad), looking surprised there could be any alternative.”

Dad (quoted above) took part with Mom in a magazine article, which I am too-generously credited with having co-written, for The United Church Observer in May of 1996.  That would be courageous even now, more than fifteen years later, but they’ve always brushed aside any sentiments of courage when it comes to the complete acceptance of their kids.  (Mom still can’t believe the ever-changing varieties of parents’ rejection of their children.)

Not pictured, indeed, is Dad’s very best friend for well over fifty years who continues to bless us just by being herself.

Not pictured, finally, is my Dad who lived only long enough to see his first grandchild reach eight months old.  He had suffered a slight, non-debilitating stroke and so it was really important as a family to gather in celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday on April 1, 2002.  Just a month later, May 4, 2002, he collapsed and died in the garden he so loved (and he kept one wherever we lived).

I picture Dad, alive and vibrant, on the back step with a handful of onions, leaf lettuce or beets or a couple of Mom’s favourite yellow roses.  But mostly I picture him in his garden.

An historic church building lives into the future with the past


photo Massicotte et Dignard architectes Crédit-photo: Massicotte et Dignard

Une traduction ( +/- ) suit.

That glass atrium between the church on the left and the social hall on the right was, until renovations began, an empty space most of the time – except in the weeks leading up to Christmas when a pre-fabricated wall, about half the height of the glass pictured, would be carried into place, the old door and padlock having managed to make it through another year.  Behind that wobbly wall and padlock were dozens of Christmas trees which Dad, and other men of the congregation, would sell, in the cold and damp, after a hard day’s work.  I accompanied Dad many times and I can almost recall with bodily memories the painful numbness in my feet as we sought brief shelter in the building proper from time to time.

This was Valleyfield United Church in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec where, when not at home, I spent a great deal of time in my youth.  The congregation left the building many years ago and since then it has been kept on life support by, among other things, a small French-language fundamentalist congregation.  Oy!

Mom was the organist for 30 years, and a mighty fine one at that, as well as the choir director which – oh well – she did what she could with whom she had to work!  The two manual pipe organ was built by the well-known Canadian firm Casavant Frères of Ste-Hyacinthe.  Serendipitously, the company is still going strong and bought the organ back to be installed elsewhere.

Built across the street from the 19th-century Montreal Cotton mill, using the same stone, the church first served Scottish Presbyterian settlers who, having named Valleyfield for a town in Scotland, put their stone masonry expertise to good use and harnessed the power of the St. Charles River which cut through the island in the St. Lawrence and which the massive cotton mill complex was built around.  When the mill was demolished in the 1970s, sending a smaller work-force out to a modern, suburban plant (which has also since closed) it was a big blow to Valleyfield’s already small English-speaking community.  In addition to political turmoil which sent many English-speaking families packing, rightly or wrongly, the changes in industry had a major impact on what was essentially a factory town – textiles, Goodyear tires, munitions, chemicals, the harbour and, oh yes, a huge Schenley’s distillery!

This beautiful building will fare better than the neighbouring Presbyterian church which, last I heard, is now an indoor rock-climbing centre!  The architect’s drawing (top) was done for MUSO, Musée de société des Deux-Rives, – (loosely translated as Museum of the People of the Two Shores) – is it any wonder “MUSO” has caught on as its name?

It is a museum which has been without a home, limited to travelling exhibits, in addition to its very well-developed web site (which will be moving eventually to a new domain).

MUSO’s directors are taking great steps to ensure that as much of the former church is preserved, including exceptionally beautiful stained-glass windows which completely surround the sanctuary.  I’m drawing on an admittedly greying memory but, other than an abstract one which is beautiful shades of rose,  high above where the organ used to be, the windows all depict scenes from biblical stories – Jesus as shepherd, the road to Damascus and I guess half a dozen others including the last one installed, the only one dedicated in my life-time, which depicts the nativity scene.  These windows are another reason, in addition to the practical use of solar power, for the new glass area.  This will allow eastern sunlight to continue to show windows so situated.

Considering this is a building which was foundational, in the best possible ways, to my youth (better than many children’s experiences elsewhere) I am delighted that it will live on in the form of this exciting museum.

I very much look forward to visiting after it has opened next year!

Map picture

photo Massicotte et Dignard architectes Crédit-photo: Massicotte et Dignard

Cet atrium de verre entre l’église sur la gauche et la salle sociaux sur le droit a été, jusqu’à début des travaux, un espace vide la plupart du temps – sauf dans les semaines précédant Noël, quand un mur pré-fabriqués, à environ la moitié de la hauteur de le verre sur la photo, serait effectué en place, la vieille porte et un cadenas avoir réussi à le faire à travers une autre année. Derrière ce mur bancal et cadenas étaient des dizaines d’arbres de Noël que Papa, et d’autres hommes de la congrégation, serait de vendre, dans le froid et humide, après une dure journée de travail. J’ai accompagné plusieurs fois papa et je peux presque rappeler des souvenirs corporelles de l’engourdissement douloureux dans les pieds que nous avons cherché un abri dans le bâtiment brève bon de temps en temps.

Ce fut l’Église Unie de Valleyfield à Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, où j’ai passé beaucoup de temps dans ma jeunesse. La congrégation a quitté le bâtiment il ya plusieurs années et depuis lors il a été maintenu en vie par, entre autres, une petite congrégation intégriste. Oy!

Maman a été l’organiste pendant 30 ans, et une fort belle à cela, ainsi que le directeur de la chorale qui – eh bien – elle faisait ce qu’elle pouvait avec qui elle avait à travailler! L’orgue à deux tuyaux d’emploi a été construit par le célèbre firme Casavant Frères de Ste-Hyacinthe. Par un heureux hasard, l’entreprise est toujours aussi fort et les props. ont acheté l’organe de retour doit être installé ailleurs.

Construit en face du moulin du 19e siècle Montreal Cotton, en utilisant la même pierre, la première église presbytérienne servi colons écossais qui, après avoir nommé Valleyfield pour une ville d’Ecosse, mettent leur expertise en maçonnerie de pierre à la bonne utilisation et exploité la puissance du rivière Saint-Charles qui traversent l’île dans le Saint-Laurent et autour qui le complexe coton massive moulin a été construit. Lorsque l’usine a été démolie dans les années 1970, l’envoi d’une petite force de travail vers une usine moderne de banlieue (qui a également fermé depuis), il a été un coup dur pour Valleyfield communauté anglophone déjà faible. En plus de l’agitation politique qui a envoyé de nombreux emballage familles anglophones, tort ou à raison, les changements dans l’industrie a eu un impact majeur sur ce qui était essentiellement une ville d’usine – textiles, les pneus Goodyear, munitions, produits chimiques, le port etc., et, oh oui, une distillerie Schenley énorme!

Ce magnifique bâtiment sera mieux que l’église presbytérienne voisins qui, la dernière que j’ai entendu, est maintenant un centre d’escalade intérieure! dessin de l’architecte (en haut) a été fait pour MUSO, Musée de société des Deux-Rives, il est pas étonnant “muso” a pris en tant que son nom?

C’est un musée qui a été sans domicile, limité à des expositions itinérantes, en plus de son site web très bien développé (qui se déplacera finalement à un nouveau domaine).

Les administrateurs de MUSO sont de prendre des mesures considérables pour s’assurer que le plus de l’ancienne église est conservée, y compris d’une beauté exceptionnelle de vitraux qui entourent complètement le sanctuaire. Je suis en s’appuyant sur une mémoire certes, mais grisonnant, autre qu’un un résumé qui est de belles nuances de rose, au-dessus de l’organe où l’habitude d’être, les fenêtres représentent des scènes de tous les récits bibliques – Jésus comme berger, le chemin de Damas et je suppose une demi-douzaine d’autres, dont le dernier est installé, le seul dédié à ma vie à temps, ce qui représente la scène de la nativité. Ces fenêtres sont une autre raison, en plus de l’utilisation pratique de l’énergie solaire, pour la région de verre neuf. Cela permettra à la lumière du soleil est de continuer à afficher les fenêtres afin situé.

Considérant ceci est un bâtiment qui a été fondamental, de la meilleure façon possible, à ma jeunesse (mieux que les expériences de nombreux enfants d’ailleurs) je suis très heureux qu’il continuera à vivre dans la forme de ce musée passionnant.

Je suis très impatient de me rendre après qu’il a ouvert l’année prochaine!

An Easter I wish I could do over


In my second year at college I hitchhiked from Niagara to Burlington, as I would do occasionally, just a few weeks before Easter. A cousin, her husband and their young family were happy to pamper me with good food and fun. On this particular weekend they also shared their enthusiasm with me about their conversion to Christianity – more of a conversion from the liberal, mainstream Christianity we knew as kids to the ‘born again’ variety.

I was of an age, and at a time in my life, when I was susceptible to suggestions of my unworthiness – not from them directly, to be clear, but in the pamphlets they gave me from Campus Crusade for Christ. I did not realize, at the time, that I could have discussed my troubling homosexual awakening with my brother so, upon my return to my shared apartment on Sunday evening, it was one of the things I prayed to be rid of as I followed the instructions in the brochure (now available as a web page but the illustrations remain exactly the same.)

My prayer was sincere, including my wish to be rid of my homosexual thoughts, and I’d like to think that my eventual acceptance of myself and my coming out, were God’s answer to those prayers – just not the ones I had expected.

Anyway, feeling the excitement of a new convert I went to visit the pastor of a church which I had been attending. Excited by my news, of course, he told me that there was to be a baptismal service at the evening service on Easter Sunday, just a few weeks away. This was to be a full immersion baptism, with several others, wading into a tank of water at the front of the church.

News of how I was to spend Easter did not go over well at home. By then Mom and Dad had learned that Craig was gay and was quietly involved, nearly silent of necessity, in the church’s deliberations over the ordination of gays and lesbians. (They wisely chose not to disclose Craig’s sexual orientation to me at this time!) I can only imagine how upsetting my decision was for them. It’s something I regret to this day although Craig assured me, when I eventually did come out, that he understood where I was coming from.

Holding up the positive, I understand the theology of the back-to-basics, evangelical Christians. From their point of view it’s simple, matter-of-fact, and certain – just the way they like it. (I still have a weakness for Christian music which has come a long way since the heyday of gospel quartets.) The cyclical “the Bible tells me so” argument is not subject to much, if any, interpretation. It stands up to criticism and discussion by simply not engaging in it in any way that the Bible-as-authority is disputed. I actually find more meaning in the story-as-metaphor or allegory. The burden of proof is lifted and the underlying message can come forward.

When my pastor, in 1981, publicly supported Toronto police raids of several bath-houses I was really angry. I traveled to Toronto for several public rallies against the raids and soon came out to Mom and Dad and, in turn, to Craig. Far from unforgiving of my past denunciation of homosexuality they were all very supportive. Craig understood, as do I, that some of the most virulent homophobes are people who haven’t dealt with their own sexuality in some way.

So, rather than dwell on that disruptive Easter of my youth, I remember the great holidays spent with Craig for the twenty-five years plus we were able to enjoy as gay brothers and I look forward to spending this weekend with Mom and Craig’s partner Claude. I hope Claude’s tulip bulbs at Craig’s grave survived the squirrels.

Unearthing one of my early newspaper appearances


 

After the cathartic experience here this morning of again recalling Craig’s struggles, in the early days of his ministry, I was remembering some of what was going on in my life 700 km away from Craig.  In the raucous days of an Ontario Human Rights Code amendment debate, giving gays and lesbians protection in the workplace, housing and so on, I agreed to be interviewed by another reporter (she from the newspaper, me in radio).

In a brown envelope, within a “clippings” folder, I found a photocopy of this St. Catharines Standard article stamped Dec. 29 1986.

Forgive some of the views expressed. Pop quuiz: I won’t tell you which ones. :) I was so naive!

Beneath a picture of me on the phone, a picture roughly the same size as the three-column article, picture this:

On the record

 

Kenn Chaplin has ended a double life to find contentment in the gay world

 

By TERRY SLAVIN

Standard Staff

If Kenn Chaplin had been able to choose his sexuality, he would have chosen to be gay.  Although it’s  difficult enough for most people to deal with their heterosexuality, Kenn has no regrets about the fact he was born gay.

“I’m enjoying the political side of my lifestyle immensely.  I think because I’m gay I’m more sensitive  to other oppressed people.  Despite what I now know about the difficulties of this lifestyle, if I could choose, I think I would choose to be gay.”

Kenn, a reporter with CKTB in St. Catharines, is also one of the founding members of Gay Outreach Niagara, a two-year-old support groups for gays and lesbians.

Helping other gays in the region come to terms with their homosexuality is a labor of love which occupies about half of his leisure time.  He also has devoted a great deal of time working with the AIDS committee in Toronto.

Kenn has emerged from a few closets since the day six years ago when he penned a letter to the United Church Observer objecting to the ordination of gays as ministers.

“It’s something I regret now,” the lanky 27-year old says quietly.  “But I think some of the worst homophobes can’t come to terms with their own sexuality.”

Kenn moved to the Niagara area from Valleyfield, Que., to attend Niagara College in 1977, and entered a period of emotional and mental confusion.

“When I moved here I had a truly double life, going to Toronto for sexual contacts while attending an ultra-conservative sect in Welland on Sundays as a way of suppressing it.

“It didn’t work.  It just made me feel guilty – not because I was doing what I was doing, but because I was leading this double life.”

On one trip to Toronto in 1981 he was handed a pamphlet which tore apart the biblical justifications used to denounce homosexuality, and he suddenly realized he could resolve the conflict between his gay identity and his faith in the United Church.

It was on the heels of that revelation that he decided to tell his parents the truth.

“That was the biggest hurdle, telling my parents I was gay.  I just wasn’t sure how they’d handle it.  My gut reaction was they’d either reject me or lovingly accept me.”

Fortunately for the entire family, they did the latter.

Spending Sundays hearing the anti-gay gospel expounded on the Calvary Gospel Church pulpit, however, has helped him to understand both sides of the heated debate about the sexual orientation amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“I appreciate the diverse backgrounds.  I know how the two poles operate.  I know how the born-agains operate.  They fully believed I was going to hell.”

Kenn says his goal in life is to share a normal existence with one other man “and live happily ever after”, but it has been difficult for him to find a partner.

He estimates between 40 and 50 percent of gay men aren’t secure enough about their sexuality to commit themselves to that kind of lifestyle.

It is difficult enough meeting other gays.  He says “straight people” have the opportunity to meet potential mates in school, shopping centres, work situations, as well as the bar scene, but gay people don’t have as many choices.

Outside of a gay bar, he observes wryly, “You just don’t go up and ask, if you want to keep your teeth.”

There is one bar in downtown St. Catharines which caters to a gay clientele at night, he says, but most people go to Toronto, or across the border to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York.

“I’m not holding out much hope it’ll happen here, and that’s why I’ll never feel at home here.”

Another shadow that cannot help but creep into Kenn’s life is the fear of AIDS.  He has done some work with the AIDS committee in Toronto, and has given emotional and practical support as a “buddy” to some of the AIDS victims in Niagara.

He has had three friends die from AIDS.

“When I read the Globe or the Star I read the death pages.  It’s made me grow up fast, come home, do the crosswords and read the death notices.”

And with each new death, his thoughts can’t help but stray to his own mortality.

“I’m assuming I’ve already been exposed to the virus before safe sex started,” he says.  Because of the long incubation period (up to five years) he could still get AIDS.

“I like to live.  My philosophy is don’t worry until you have something to worry about.”

And now that the Human Rights Code has passed an amendment prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals, he does not have any fear about going public about his sexuality.

He said he expects some negative reaction when “people who’ve been dealing with Kenn Chaplin, CKTB reporter, find out they’ve been dealing with a gay all along…but I accept it.  I’m going to have to deal with it all my life.  By coming out the only choice I’ve made is to be honest.  If other people can’t handle that it’s their problem, it’s not mine.”

 

If I was spoiling for a fight I got one – but nothing as bad as it could have been.

It just so happened (wink, wink) that the article came out on the first of my two days off.  When I returned to work my fellow reporters showed a variety of levels of support but when my boss called me in I got a truer picture.

He nervously assured me that he had no problem with the substance of the article, the unorthodoxy of a newspaper interviewing a competing radio station notwithstanding.  He wished that I had given him a heads up.  It was his boss, he said, the station manager, who was having a harder time with it.

His office was my next stop.

Again, I was treated with courtesy but he gave me a double-pronged objection:  I was opening up the radio station to unnecessary scrutiny by listeners and he was Roman Catholic and struggled with some of my views.  No big surprise there.

The whole exercise was an adrenaline rush and I wholly admit to being in a frame-of-mind at the time of, “Go ahead.  Challenge me!”

It’s a reminder to me of those days when “pride”, as in LGBT Pride displayed in the annual festivals and parades, was much more political here in Canada than has since become the case.  However, echoing the words of Alyson Huntly to me earlier, “I don’t think people realize how much hatred glbtq people experience just for being who we are, or how hard it is for young people especially. It’s still socially acceptable to be anti-gay even when it is no longer socially acceptable to promote racial hatred.”

Alyson Huntly receives this year’s Craig Chaplin Memorial Award



From left to right:  my sister Lynn, Alyson Huntly, and Claude on my left2472243872_3ce770b56c_b

Google Alyson Huntly’s name, as I did even before I knew with absolute certainty that I’d be writing this, and you’ll see what an accomplished author, educator, Diaconal Minister, grandmother (and on and on) she is!  Add Doctor, too, Alyson having received her Ph.D. in Education (Curriculum) from Queen’s University last fall.

So for these, and more particular, reasons for many of us it was never a question of if, only when, Alyson would receive the award my late brother Craig left for McGill University’s United Theological College.

I emailed her a few questions this week and she replied with warm and loving memories of a dear friendship.

My first point of contact with Alyson comes from her acclaimed 1998 book Daring To Be United: Including Lesbians and Gays in The United Church of Canada (United Church Publishing House) but her friendship with Craig went well beyond that.

My first question to Alyson was, given her understanding of Craig’s intent for the award, what her feelings are in being selected to receive it.

“I am of course very honoured to be recognized this way. It makes me feel quite humble, though, when I think of all those who are doing so much to work for justice for glbtq people in the church and in the wider community. Although many people think the issue is over, of course there is still so much prejudice and oppression – within the church and in Canadian society. Of particular concern for me is the way that young people experience such hatred and misunderstanding, including from their peers, as they are coming out.

“Craig and I talked about this award when he was first thinking of creating it. I know that his hope was to continue to raise up the issue of sexual orientation, as a way of continuing to place it in front of the church in a public way, through the UTC convocation. He saw this as a way of continuing to name the “issue” that no one wanted to talk about. I think it’s still somewhat the case. I work in a congregation and I am quite sure that there are many who would say that they are fine with me being lesbian, but let’s not be public about it – which is of course a way of silencing glbtq experience and stories.”

Published ten years following the denomination’s historic decision not to exclude qualified lesbians and gay men from ordained ministry, Daring to Be United weaves together the many stories as told by passionate church members on both sides of “The Issue”.

One of those stories was Craig’s and, re-reading it even now, the inner turmoil and fear of those days leaps off the page.  I asked Alyson to reflect on the interactions she had with Craig, particularly in the preparation of the book, and on Claude’s quoting – from the book – of Craig a few years ago that “living in the closet was worse than his personal experience of HIV”.  I remember that even at the worst moments of  “the issue” Craig, like so many, never lost hope completely nor the collective sense of humour.

“Craig was a good friend. We worked together on a few different projects, related to lay education, during the time I was working at UTC (1990-94) and often met for supper to chat about work or just to talk. We often met at his and Claude’s apartment and had long unhurried conversations about everything under the sun. Craig was always so easy to talk to and such a compassionate listener but he also talked about his own life, his struggles and hopes, and about this award.

“I know he was hoping to write a memoir and I have often wondered what happened to that project. He did write a bit, I know. When I interviewed him for Daring to Be United he was more out (that would have been in 1997) but he talked a lot about his experiences of being in the closet and how oppressive that had been. I think it was a great joy for him that later in his life he could be public about who he was. Though many people at the church knew, there was still that oppressive silence hanging over him. I think he was very relieved when that ended and he could be fully out. And, yes, he did have an incredible sense of humour – and a deep love of life. He was an introvert by nature and needed time apart but he also loved people – his friends, his family, and the people he ministered with.

“That is what I remember most about Craig – his loving presence. This award is a reminder of how much Craig gave of himself, and his love and care.  That’s also what is humbling about receiving this award. He touched so many people in such a significant way. And he continues to do so, through this bequest.”

Chaplin was ordained in 1980, in an era when “don’t ask, don’t tell” seemed the norm for gay and lesbian candidates. “I don’t even remember contemplating coming out as a serious option,” he recalls.  “With anyone I did tell in those early years, the response was always the same: don’t rock the boat and everything will be fine.”  He went to enormous lengths to hide his sexual orientation and his relationship from his first congregation.  His partner never answered the phone.  He could only enter the house through the back door.  If anyone came to the door he went upstairs immediately.  The pressure was horrendous.  “I needed to believe people didn’t know he was in the house,” Chaplin explains.  “We managed to eke out a life , but it was very stressful.”

In 1984, he moved to Union United Church in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, near Montreal.  In 1986, when the congregation studied the issue, they invited a “real gay person” to come and talk to them.  It was ironic.  They could have talked to their minister, if anyone had known.  By 1988, Chaplin had come out to a number of key people in the congregation, but most still were not aware of his sexual orientation.  A commissioner to the 1988 General Council, he sat in the auditorium, a closeted gay, HIV-positive man.  When he joined in the debate, he spoke carefully, in the third person.

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Chaplin’s deteriorating health finally forced him to go public.  In 1992, he stood in front of his  congregation and told them who he was.  He would have preferred to come out in different circumstances but knows that, but for AIDS, he might never have done so.  “I’m grateful that if I had to develop HIV, at least it became a catalyst for the kind of growth and change I needed to do,” he says.  It became a very life-affirming opportunity to claim his life back both from the closet and the disease.  He feels both were deadly.  “In many ways, the closet was killing me faster than the virus, spiritually if not physically, because of the enormous pressure I felt to conform outwardly to an image that wasn’t who I was.”

Chaplin recognizes the cost of all those years of speaking in the third person, answering evasively.  As closets go, it wasn’t too uncomfortable.  He had come out to a lot of people in the congregation, but that just meant they, too, were part of the web of silence. “I may be feeling more liberated but, really, all I’ve done is broadened the web of deceit.  I have brought them into my closet.  But they haven’t brought me out into the sunshine.  It was quite different the day I stood up in a public forum and said, ‘This is who I am.’  Because, at that point, I wasn’t inviting them into the closet, I was knocking the door down.”  Chaplin regrets that it had to be done under those kind of circumstances.  “In the best of all possible worlds, it’s not the  kind of script I would have written,” he says.  “But given the hand I was dealt, I did the best I could.”

Alyson has been very involved with Affirm United for many years.  (That’s a group within the Church for support of, and outreach from, lgbt members – ordained, laity and friends.)  I wondered how she sees the Affirming Ministries movement going in the United Church of Canada – ever-growing in some areas and yet, perhaps, a little complacent in others.

“I think the Affirming Ministry movement continues to be very important, even though there are many who would say this issue is just not that important anymore (because we have glbt ministers and gay marriage and so on). Even people who understand the importance of working on issues like anti-racism will say to me sometimes, ‘Why are you still going on about gay rights when there are so many more important things to be done in the world?’ I don’t think people realize how much hatred glbtq people experience just for being who we are, or how hard it is for young people especially. It’s still socially acceptable to be anti-gay even when it is no longer socially acceptable to promote racial hatred.”

Does Alyson not enthusiastically embody Craig’s vision for this memorial award?

I’ll editorialize with some extra emphasis but this is how United Theological College announced the establishment of the Fund at the time of Craig’s death:

The Rev. Craig Chaplin, friend, pastor, teacher and graduate of the United Theological College died on Wednesday, May 9, 2007.

Over a decade ago Craig made the decision to make a bequest to the United Theological College that would support an award recognizing the remarkable contributions of ministry offered by gay and lesbian people.  In initiating this fund Craig envisioned an award that would be given regularly, and publicly, to a gay or lesbian person, ministering within the formal, organized structures of the Christian Church or in other faith traditions.  This award is intended to be not only a symbol of affirmation, but also a means of fostering and encouraging positive role models within the GLBT community.

It was Craig who proposed that this award be announced at the time of his death and that others be encouraged to be Craig’s partners in contributing to it and the vision it promotes.

We are honoured that Rev. Chaplin has entrusted the United Theological College with the disbursement of this memorial fund.  His affirming vision of the ministry of gay and lesbian people within and beyond the life of the Church is one we seek to affirm in tangible ways through our ministry of theological education.  This memorial fund allows us to live more fully into this vision and mission.

During the time Craig was so selectively “out” he would tell me how proud he was of me, and envious, as my eventual coming out (preceded by a “Me thinks he doth protest too much” homophobia at a time when I could have been much more supportive) allowed me to be at lgbt rallies ‘in the trenches’.  In kind, I have absolute goose-bumps of pride reading over those terms of reference for Craig’s Memorial.

Alyson will be honoured as part of the Spring Convocation of the United Theological College to be held this year on Wednesday, May 12 at 2 pm at Union United Church of Montreal (not to be confused with Union in Ste. Anne de Bellevue) located at 3007 Delisle Street near the Lionel-Groulx Metro station (see map).

As this is an on-going memorial, donations to the Craig Chaplin Memorial are always greatly appreciated. A secure on-line link can be accessed from here or gifts to “United Theological College” (Chaplin Memorial in memo line) can be mailed to:

United Theological College,
3521 University St.,
Montréal, Québec H3A 2A9

Christmas church candles and Coca-Cola chuckles


As I look forward to hearing and singing the music of the Christmas season I think back to the break-neck pace we kept in the family at this time of year when I was a kid.

This probably would have been the Sunday for our church’s candlelight service, or perhaps the 20th, and it was always a very full day. It  began with the regular morning service and then Mom, the church organist for thirty-one years, would round up both the junior and senior choirs (ad any available chauffeurs) for an after-lunch drive.

We took something of a triangular route to two English-language nursing homes – one near Ormstown, the other just outside of Huntingdon – where we sang carols, both in the main living-rooms and at the bed-sides of anyone who couldn’t make it to the larger gathering. They were, my mother recalls with more vivid detail than can I, unlicensed homes so using the term “nursing” belies a level of care that would not meet the standards of professionals, neither now nor then. I do vivdly remember a fair amount of good-natured shouting, which I would now recognize as simple attempts to communicate with one another, an almost suffocating heat, even with drafty windows, and a few pungent aromas.

Some of this usually frightened me as a youngster (most residents were older and in much rougher shape than my grandparents) but it was a valuable life lesson and, in fact, I grew to have quite a particular affinity with the more elderly subscribers along my paper route during my teens. I remember Mom would spend an evening a day or two before our outing packing little plastic bags with Christmas-coloured hard candies, tied with a festive ribbon, for us to hand out to the seniors.

Dusk was upon us when we got home for a light supper and then we set off for the candlelight service. It was a very pretty little church and on this night it was always amazing with, I swear, more candles per square metre than any other church would have considered safe, not to mention the fire marshal. The only electric lighting used was over my mother on the organ (and maybe the choir, too, but most couldn’t read music so lighting wasn’t a priority.)

The church would be very warm, thanks to a boiler furnace and associated radiators which pinged, hissed and banged at times of their choosing which rarely matched the beat of the music. There was more than the usual amount of body heat, too, with regular attendees out-numbered by Christmas and Easter seasonal devotees.

The music was pretty good, all things considered, as Mom always had at least one and sometimes two excellent soprano soloists in the choir – and Mom had a very good two-manual Casavant Frères pipe organ to work with. (I’ve been a big fan of pipe organs ever since.) Mom had taken over as organist – she a piano teacher, mind you, not an organist – from Bob Anderson. There was a character! I suppose he would have been in his seventies when I first was old enough to remember him but he and his wife Effie lasted well into their eighties. Bob had a booming baritone voice which could be heard all over the church during the singing of an old hymn. When I was young enough to be getting the “Say thank you” advice he would reach into his suit pocket and haul out a selection of wrapped candies. He and Effie were immigrants from Scotland and their brogue was very thick. As I grew up I mastered pretty good imitations of both of them.

Valleyfield United was a small English-language Protestant church in a mostly French-speaking, Roman Catholic city so I can only remember two great preachers since it tended to attract clergy either just starting out, relatively speaking, or those close to, or perhaps overdue to, retire. Richard and Harold were my favourites. Richard was there when I was in the first few grades of school while Harold managed to keep me interested in the church through my high school years. Otherwise, we cycled through quite an assortment of clergy who probably sped up the rapid decline in church attendance in those days.

The church is being transformed into a local museum. Newspaper reports I’ve read about it, and pictures on its Facebook page, show that all the beautiful stained glass memorial windows have been maintained. They really are spectacular having been installed gradually, and well cared for, over the long life of the congregation.

After the candlelight service we would usually take a short detour on the way home so that we could pass the Coca-Cola bottling plant where a more secular version of Christmas was on display. In a large picture window, where the assembly line would normally be in view, sat a twice-life-sized mechanical Santa Claus in a setting that probably came from the company’s earliest magazine ads. One of his low-tech arms would go up as a voice, through loud-speakers, boomed, “Ho ho ho!” This was a traffic stopper, particularly at night with lots of twinkling lights adding to the atmosphere.

My grandmother, who would be part of this drive home a few nights later on Christmas Eve, got a big kick out of Santa which to kids like us, accustomed to a rather staid grandmother, made us laugh all the harder.

Happy Christmas memories of Valleyfield United Church and the Coca-Cola Santa Claus are inseparable!

Artwork from www.thecoca-colacompany.com

Sen. Kennedy, Facebook and looking back fondly


Ted Kennedy Tribute: 2008 DNC Convention in Denver

Over the din of commentators, warming their robotic hands against the barely dead Ted Kennedy, and please read this report on his pioneering political fights against AIDS, I have been trying to remember the 1980s with a little more precision than is usually called for.

See thanks to Facebook a friend of twenty or more years ago whom I had given up for dead, and the feeling was apparently mutual, sent me a note and got me caught up to speed very succinctly.

When we last spoke he was living in London, having split up there with the man he had met when we both lived in St. Catharines. He then had another loving relationship with a guy in London, who became very ill, and they moved out of London so he could be closer to his family in the country. He died there close to their tenth anniversary together.

Perry, my friend, moved back to St. Catharines where he could begin to recover from his terrible loss among friends and family members.

Fast forward a few years and, having almost resigned himself to being single, he met Joe. After a long courtship, which included Joe moving from out of town, Perry and Joe were married at a United Church in St. Catharines. Ah, the United Church, which brought me to the subject of my brother. (There’s so much to try and recall from twenty-odd years but, of course, I had the lowlights – my accident, Craig’s death, etc.)

I’ve even hinted at possibly participating in Perry’s local AIDS walk in September. I had not planned to do so here – not for any particular reason – and it would be a terrific way to get caught up in person.

Things I have avoided, not just while writing today but for several weeks, are my mood diaries (that’s an over-simplification) and thinking about and naming some of my deepest desires which, I am the first to admit, I have too long covered over with fear wrapped in bacon and rationalizations.

Well it is time to either get on with it or get some shut-eye before the first signs of sunrise appear.

Merde, il pleut!

Updated (with link to video): John Marks reminds me of my struggles with faith – and that we don’t have to be right


Here’s a recent video of author John Marks being interviewed on The Bully Pulpit. It’s a great way (if you’ll take the 45 minutes or so to watch) to get a sense of where he’s coming from in his book and why I was so fascinated by it.

The Bully! Pulpit Show: John Marks from BullyPulpit.com on Vimeo.

Original post from April 2008:

A little while ago I bought Reasons to Believe: One Man’s Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behindby John Marks, which I’d heard about while clicking around TV, the subject matter of which resonated strongly with me. (Here’s a fair review.)

Marks, a former evangelical Christian, was researching the phenomenal success of the “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels for an item on the CBS program 60 Minutes. An elderly couple he was interviewing asked if he, himself, would be ‘left behind’ when, as they believe, the Rapture occurs. If the question was a little disarming in its frankness, his answer is the basis of this book which, indeed, is a journey. It will surprise many readers – Christians, of all descriptions, and non-believers alike.

As for why I was drawn to the book, there was a time – in college – when I took what my liberal Christian family correctly saw as a rather abrupt leap to an evangelical church.

The explanation begs more than a little context.

It was my first year in college, some six hundred kilometers from home, and I was spending a winter weekend with a couple who, unbeknownst to me, had been “born again”. These were people I knew to havebeen raised in churches similar to mine, albeit in congregations more conservative. The fact remains that increasing the numbers of the “born again” was not a major thrust of those churches’ work – which was to serve as part of their pitch to me. Was I, and there were implied questions about the rest of my family, truly Christian? Had I, as was their version of the minimum requirements, accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour? They brought out some evangelical Christian music for me to listen to in my quiet times there, and dubbed cassette copies for me to take home.

Before I left, to hitch-hike back to college, they gave me a couple of pamphlets from Campus Crusade for Christ. (This was long before the internet and its mass evangelizing potential.) One of those brochures featured stick-figure drawings of “man”, sin, (Hell maybe, too?), Jesus and the throne of God. If I could not be sure where I’d go, were I to die that night, there were simple instructions and a ‘sinner’s prayer’ to change that. I followed those instructions, and prayed that prayer beside my bed, when I got back to the four-bedroom duplex I shared with three classmates.

That evening I visited the pastor of an evangelical church. I had attended one or two of their services, at the behest of the landlady from whom I had rented a room briefly, at the beginning of the academic year. Fresh from the evening service the pastor’s door swung open and he greeted me warmly, then ushered me into the living room where the church music director and his wife were visiting. I told them what had happened and, of course, there was great joy in the room. The pastor then told me of the upcoming baptismal service on Easter Sunday – in just a week or two.

Of course I’d be baptized, my childhood baptism seen as null and void by evangelicals, and it would be by full immersion – in a narrow, step-down pool behind the choir loft only uncovered for such occasions.

So, while it was no surprise to my parents that I would not be home for Easter, having just returned from Reading Week with them, my Easter plans were quite a shock to say the least. I sensed their disappointment over the phone, no question that this was a departure from my church upbringing, and so they were quickly on my prayer list. My baptism, along with a line of others dressed in the choir’s old gowns, went off without a hitch.

There remained, however, at least one obvious inner conflict. I was struggling with the eventually-undeniable fact that I was gay. There were some me-thinks-he-doth-protest-too-much incidents such as my having a letter published, in the national news magazine of my family’s church, critical of the church’s move toward ordaining gay clergy (which eventually passed). The double life was even more distressing, however, as I discovered gay bars, and other meeting places that I would frequent, only to seek solace at church on Sundays.

I even sang a couple of solos.

My association with the evangelical congregation and, to a lesser extent, its theology (more about that later) ended when the pastor wrote a letter to a local newspaper supporting police actions against gay men and bath houses in a mass arrest one hundred kilometers away. I angrily left the church without explanation as I easily identified with those arrested and the circumstances in which they had been found.

I flung myself into the civil disobedience and mass demonstrations which followed and, in so doing, found a community which showed signs that it would help me begin to accept my homosexuality. I also learned of a church, with special outreach to the LGBT community, and became convinced – about as fast as I was “born again” a few years earlier – that I could be both Christian and gay.

Emboldened, and trying to be as self-affirming as possible, I wrote a letter to my parents telling them that I was gay and that I now believed I could still be a Christian. Only my coming out was news to them. They told me that my older brother, at the time still studying to become a church minister, was also gay. It was as if our individual struggles had taken place in emotional silos!

That was in 1981.

My church life continued, commuting to the city on weekends where I indulged my sexual desires and then worshipped at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT). It still had a double-life feel to it as I tried to keep separate my enthusiasm for the church and my enthusiasm for sowing wild oats. Yet the misgivings and guilt were nothing like I used to feel. If I had convinced myself that my sexual orientation was not a flaw, it still remains to be seen whether I can completely shake the feelings of guilt over my sexual behaviours. Having been told, even convinced, by Jerry Falwell and the like, that homosexuality was a sin and that AIDS was God’s retribution for it I had practically set myself up to be diagnosed with it. That self-fulfilling prophecy came in the form of a diagnosis of HIV infection in 1990 and, when blood samples from a year earlier were re-examined, it’s clear that my sero-conversion had begun in 1989.

“If anybody deserves AIDS, my thinking went, I do!”

That long-held belief would take many more words to unpack. Suffice to say that I do not believe illness or misfortune is deserved, nor can I believe in a version of God that would willfully mete out life’s bumps, let alone this way.

It gradually became clear to me, too, that I had a substance abuse problem – more prevalent per capita in the gay community than in the general population – and I remain “in recovery” to this day.

Not too long after my HIV/AIDS diagnoses I left paid employment and have been living on a combination of private and public disability pensions ever since.

Having wandered from MCCT in the mid-1990s, associating myself with an off-shoot congregation briefly, I found my way back to the United Church of Canada – to an Affirming Congregation called Trinity-St. Paul’s United – in 1999. It has been my church home ever since. The community aspect of the church is important to me. To be without a church home, or to be without the members of other support groups, seems inconceivable. This is not to say that I accept all church doctrine, nor all the ‘suggestions’ of the recovery fellowships. The nice thing about Trinity-St. Paul’s, or TSP, has been the sense of freedom I feel to air difficult questions – of the faith, life, and so on – without fear of judgment. In fact such questions are encouraged and celebrated.

In addition to my substance abuse recovery I am also being treated for the concurrent disorder of Bipolar II and longstanding issues requiring counseling. I know that neither spirituality nor formal religion hold all the answers. Shit happens. I do not believe God to be a master puppeteer, pulling strings in the world from some lofty place, letting – as Rabbi Harold S. Kushner put it a generation or more ago – bad things happen to good people.

My beliefs have evolved a great deal, needless to say, since the occasion of my baptism by immersion. Yet, like the author of Reason to Believe, I have a from-the-inside understanding of where evangelical Christians are coming from – and it’s often not the place of secular caricatures.

Indeed, and I recognize this may seem contradictory, I still have such a passion for music – even the “praise” music of the evangelicals. However much I no longer accept a good part of the doctrine in the lyrics, I can easily be swept up in the emotions, even just the tune, of such music.

There’s a song that I listen to a lot, and repeatedly since Craig’s death in 2007 – a song that would not find its way into my congregation, I don’t think. And even though my ideas of the nature of The Divine are ever in flux, and can be more accurately described as ‘Mystery’, I can settle on the comfort of a familiar Jesus figure when I sing along with Third Day. (You may need to change “Jesus” to something else mystical; seeking comfort need never be limited to religion.)

An embedded Youtube video I had inserted has been disabled “by request” so I can only transcribe the lyrics:


To everyone who’s lost someone they love
Long before it was their time
You feel like the days you had were not enough
when you said goodbye

And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there’s nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right

Chorus

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

For the marriage that’s struggling just to hang on
They lost all of their faith and love
They’ve done all they can to make it right again
Still it’s not enough

For the ones who can’t break the addictions and chains
You try to give up but you come back again
Just remember that you’re not alone in your shame
And your suffering

Chorus

When your lonely (when you’re lonely)
And it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus

To the widow who suffers from being alone
Wiping the tears from her eyes
For the children around the world without a home
Say a prayer tonight

Chorus

John Marks might think I haven’t let go as thoroughly as he has. Inasmuch as I still struggle with faith, he would be right.

But do I believe in the Rapture of the Left Behind series?  No.  Or in a reunion with loved ones after death?  No.  Somewhere deep inside, however, I find a strength and wisdom which – while they may well be mine - are not inconsistent with the qualities ascribed to the God of many names, of many religions.

Read more about topics raised here, here, and here.

Finally, in the spirit of not taking ourselves too seriously, I direct you to Rapture Letters. It’s a place where The Book of Revelation, and the convenience of email, merge (and is apparently a genuine service).

It was two years ago today


This was the notice published in The Gazette a couple of days later (minus the picture):

CHAPLIN, Rev. A. Craig – B.A., M. Div.

Peacefully in hospital on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at the age of 51. Former Minister of Sutton (Que.) United Church and of Union United in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que., a graduate of Queen`s University and McGill`s United Theological College.

He is survived by his loving partner of sixteen years, Claude Lamontagne, and their extended families, Craig`s mother, Madeline Chaplin of Perth, Ontario (predeceased in 2002 by father Arnold Chaplin). Craig was the beloved brother of Kenn, Lynn (Joslyn and Allyson Howatt), Janice (Randy Shiga), and the proud uncle of Kailey and Brennan.

A memorial service to celebrate Craig`s life will be held at St. James United Church, 462 Ste. Catherine St. West, Montreal, on Monday, May 14, 2007 at 7pm. Interment will be held at Scotch Line Cemetery in Perth, Ontario on Tuesday, May 15 at 6pm.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Craig Chaplin Memorial Fund at the United Theological College, 3521 University Ave., Montreal H3A 2A9 (or online at www.utc.ca) are requested.

Celebrating Craig and a walk (now with map) from Le Plâteau to Outremont and back (Montréal)


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Mom and I arrived at Claude’s on Monday for the second annual presentation Wednesday of the Craig Chaplin Memorial Award to Darryl Macdonald. It was a wonderful convocation ceremony and service, and it was terrific to meet Darryl and his husband Chris (r).

Now Craig’s dream has been realized twice, with many more such occasions to come provided the fund remains viable. With convocation – and the further conferring of this award – likely to forever coincide (almost) with the anniversary of Craig’s death, May 9, it is almost as if Craig would be saying, “No time to be weepy; get on with life (and keep those donations coming)!”

I already have a pretty good idea who next year’s award recipient will be. Right from the start there has been no shortage of great candidates.

With Craig’s wishes so explicit, “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“, I am very proud that UTC publicly, prophetically, stands out among United Church of Canada colleges – not to mention any other schools of religious training – in living out its commitment to ensure the equal ministries of LGBT people.

Tuesday I took a long walk from the southeastern-most corner of Le Plâteau neighbourhood to Outremont to the northwest, and then past Mordecai Richler‘s old haunts to rue Gilford and on to Parc Lafontaine before going back to Claude’s.

Did I take pictures!

An open letter to all Members of Canada’s Parliament


I’m writing to express my support for the government’s proposed legislation to extend access to civil marriage to same-sex couples across Canada.

Some people are worried that religious officials will be forced to marry same-sex couples, but the Charter protects their religious freedom.

The Supreme Court will soon make this clear.

Religious institutions have always set their own rules for marriage. Some religions won’t marry previously divorced persons or inter-faith couples. The Charter guarantees that religions cannot be penalized or limited in any way for only performing marriages that conform to their beliefs. And many people of faith support equal marriage.

Canada is a pluralistic society in which we accept and embrace diverse beliefs, both religious and secular. The law of the land should reflect this diversity.

I hope you will support the equal marriage legislation. Please let me know where you stand on this important issue.

For the record, I am the gay son oftwo heterosexuals, my mother and father, who would have been married forfifty years in July, 2002 were it not for my Dad’s sudden death a few shortmonths before.

This is an intensely personal debate for me.

When the church of my upbringing, the United Church of Canada, released its controversial report in the 1980s -endorsing the rights of gays and lesbian members to seek positions of ordained ministry – I had already left the church. In the years that followed, as I tried to accept the undeniable fact that I was gay, I went through many difficult years which ultimately led to my nearly dying of an AIDS-related illness in 1993. (I tested HIV-positive in 1989.)

While I accept responsibility for my role in this unfortunate development there were a number of circumstances which, I submit, contributed to a whole series of self-destructive behaviours. I was sexually abused by several men, who led heterosexual lives, during my adolescence in the 1970s. I later drank and used drugs excessively. I regret, now, not having reported the sexual abuse at the time but I understand that – struggling as I was with my own sexual orientation – this was not easy for a teenager to do.

The society in which I grew up was just beginning to recognize the prevalence of gay and lesbian persons. We barely had words to describe this sexual orientation which, for so many years previously, had been secretive.

When I “came out”, first to myself and then to my family, in 1981 I was lovingly accepted. In the words of my mother, writing to me then, “nothing has changed when it comes to the love your Dad and I have for you.”

Regrettably my self-acceptance, complicated by the horrific exploitation I experienced as a teenager, was not so easy and the aforementioned consequences are what I now live with. It is for some of those same reasons that I have been unable to enter into a loving relationship with another man. I live in hope that one day I will meet a soul-mate.

The United Church, to which I have again belonged since 1998, would bless such amarriage – something left to the discretion of each congregation. For the past two years or so, civil courts in Ontario and several other jurisdictions would have done so as well. Many friends, same-sex couples,have been married. Some have been raising wonderful, healthy children.

I do not know, if my life had developed differently, whether I would be happily in love with another man today. I do believe that – in the ‘big picture’ – this would only stabilise society, not upset it irreversibly. I fully support religious institutions’ right not to marry anyone they wish.

I cannot support discriminatory practices within the jurisdiction of our provincial and federal governments.

Sincerely,

Kenn Chaplin