On the line from Ottawa, Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson spoke with palpable joy. He has all the reasons in the world to rejoice.
May 2012 was his 20th year as the first openly gay person to be ordained as minister of the United Church of Canada.
Last June, he and spouse Gary Paterson celebrated their 30th-year anniversary of being together. The latter is the minister of the St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver.
And then on Thursday (August 16), Paterson was elected moderator of the United Church of Canada at its 41st General Council meeting at Carleton University.
Paterson becomes the first openly gay leader of the Christian denomination.
“I’m thrilled for the church,” Stevenson told the Straight by phone today (August 17). “I’m thrilled for him although it’s a big responsibility for him. I think he’s exactly the right person at the right time for the national church. And I think he will be a marvellous moderator.”
Ordained as United Church minister in 1977, Paterson preceded Stevenson’s investiture by 15 years.
“He was first ordained when he was married to a woman and they had three children,” Stevenson recalled. “When we got together, the children were one, three and five. They’re now 32, 34, 36, and we have four grandchildren as well.”
The Vancouver councillor explained that as moderator, Paterson will serve as the spiritual head of the United Church. The latter has a three-year term.
“He is a very passionate preacher,” Stevenson said about Paterson. “He’s a very articulate individual. He has a very, very quick mind and he brings together intellect and compassion with the ability to articulate a vision for the church and reach out to society in general.”
Stevenson added that Patterson has a “prophetic voice” on various social issues.
“In a world that is broken, in a world that needs healing, he will speak out on those issues,” Stevenson added.
According to an official United Church account of the moderator-elect’s press conference on August 16, one issue that Paterson may face is the church’s proposed boycott of products from the “illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank”.
The account notes that 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,” Paterson was quoted as saying. “International law would say that it is wrong, and I would suspect there are many, many Jews who say that it is wrong.”
The proposed boycott is subject to a vote today. Paterson will be sworn August 18, the last day of the church’s 41st General Council meeting that started on August 11.
In his prepared biographical sketch, Paterson described himself as an “army brat”. Born in the Yukon in 1949, he lived in Toronto and Germany before eventually settling in Vancouver, “where my family has 150 years of farming roots”.
“A couple of degrees in English literature led to my becoming a Sessional Lecturer at UBC, and a ‘closet poet’,” Paterson wrote.