Gary Paterson Elected Moderator
A Vancouver-based minister who describes himself as a passionate preacher and poet, the Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson was elected Moderator of The United Church of Canada by the 41st General Council on August 16, 2012.
Paterson becomes the first openly gay leader of a major Christian denomination. At a news conference following his election, he rejoiced that his sexual orientation has been a non-issue.
“One of the most wonderful things for is me that in the time of discerning and in the time of writing responses to people, it’s actually been a non-issue, and I would suspect that is the primary news story,” said Paterson, who was joined at the news conference by his partner, Tim Stevenson.
“What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma and a problem has not within our immediate community been seen in that way at all,” said the Moderator-elect.
“We recognize that it was 20 years since Tim was the only openly gay person to be ordained within the United Church, and we look at the kind of distance that has been achieved, at least within this community of church and this part of the world,” Paterson said. He will formally become Moderator at a worship service on Saturday, August 18, 2012.
He added that young people who may be struggling with their sexual orientation should be able to see gay role models.
He was elected Moderator in an election that lasted more than eight hours and included a record number of 15 nominees. His election was greeted with a loud and enthusiastic ovation that lasted several minutes after what current Moderator Mardi Tindal described as an emotional day.
Paterson was chosen on the sixth ballot. The Rev. Dr. John H. Young, an Assistant Professor and the Chair of the Theology Program at Queen’s School of Religion in Kingston, Ontario, was the other nominee on the final ballot.
The Moderator-elect, who has been in ministry more than 35 years, insisted he will not make his sexual orientation the centrepiece of his term as Moderator. Instead he said he will be focusing on establishing partnerships to bring hope and inspiration to people who worry that the church is dying.
“I don’t have power. I root that in God and in the community,” Paterson said during the news conference. “I would see trying to enable the church to look realistically at what is happening and not be frightened. We will find our way through. We will be changed and we will be faithful, and God will be with us.”
One of the first issues that Paterson may confront in his three-year term is the proposed boycott of products from the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
He acknowledged that a boycott will not be well received by some Jewish leaders, but he’s anxious to talk with them about the plight of the Palestinian people in the settlements and also to recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
“I think if you read the report rather than the headlines you will see that there is a deep commitment we have always had to Israel and the Jewish people, and we recognize the existence of antisemitism and legitimate fears,” he said.
He has recently returned from a two-month sabbatical in Israel and Palestine. “I have seen first-hand for myself what was happening with the occupation, and I believe that it is wrong,” he said. “International law would say that it is wrong, and I would suspect there are many, many Jews who say that it is wrong.”
Paterson has a long history in the United Church. He was ordained in 1977 and served several churches before joining the staff of British Columbia Conference. He worked in one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods with First United in Vancouver, and then moved to Ryerson United Church in Vancouver for 11 years. He now serves the congregation of what he calls a “cathedral-like” church, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in Vancouver.
In his nominee’s speech to General Council earlier this week, Paterson proposed a national every-congregation consultation about the state of the church. He said there is a need to strengthen our prophetic ministries with vulnerable people. “Times past we were really worried that no one bothered to listen to us when we spoke up. Nowadays, they’re telling us to shut up.”