I went back into the ministry in 1982 and was in Aylmer, Quebec. I was also president of Conference, and I went to the 1988 vote at General Council. My experience is that the whole issue of was a shock to many congregations, including mine. I wasn’t out at the time. The horrific and interesting thing was that people were shocked about talking about sexuality in general, never mind gay issues. The fact that this was openly talked about in the church was shocking to many people.
The people who were most against it were the “married with 2.3 kids” group; the older and younger people seemed very comfortable to talk about these things. The middle aged group was when the problems arose in congregations and these were the people who left.
They were very difficult times. My congregations was very support, in contrast to other congregations in my area. We had many well-meaning people who took different sides and they were willing to live together and discuss (in my church). It was a very difficult time because you couldn’t be completely open. It was one thing to have the idea that one could be gay but it was very different to deal with that on the ground.
It was a wonderful thing that happened in our church. It opened up this issue and other issues and it got people talking. It was an interesting time.
It made me frustrated because I felt I couldn’t come out completely. When you are a single man or woman and you come out particularly on that issue… you wanted to have a neutral position to facilitate discussion and openness. This way it would help the congregateion to keep talking.
At that time I had my picture in the newspaper, with the headline, “Minister preaches free sex from the public”. This was untrue. I never preached that. All I preached was the love of God. But everybody latched on to the “sex” topic, it was so attractive [for scandal].
I never officially came out at that time, ironically all of the ministers in the area were gay (the Anglican, the other United church, etc)
How did those troubles show themselves? People were leaving especially in Ottawa, but not at my church in Alymer, Quebec. This was filtered through the things we heard in Presbytery. Many of the churches had male or female married ministers who fit the role model, so those congregations felt that they had the right role model for the church and that any other role model was obviously wrong. I know several people from United Church congregations went to worship at Metropolitan United Church.
Is an apology needed? No, I think people did what they did according to the cultural norms of the time and no apology is needed. We would be better to get our theology down as to what we might do and believe, instead of beating our breasts about what we did wrong. Sure gay people have been abused all along, but now it is better because of what we did. Never mind the apology.
[Shared with permission. Image credit: Wix stock photo.]