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St. John's history of inclusiveness

advocating for same sex blessings and same sex marriage


When I joined St. Johns in 1983, one of the draws was the inclusion of our three young children in the service and the Sunday school program led by brother Brian Youngward of the order of Holy Cross. Despite noisy and boisterous behaviour, our children were made to feel very welcome.


Later in the 80’s ,the inclusion of autistic and Down syndrome young people was a further journey towards inclusiveness that I was proud to participate in. We had several families with children who had not been welcomed at neighbouring churches due to what was perceived as their disruptive behaviour. Upon arrival at SJWT, these families were welcomed. Their children were made to feel comfortable attending Sunday services, and where possible, to participate in the services.


A further, and more recent example of our desire to be inclusive was the welcoming of LGBTQ+ people who came to worship with us. This led to strong advocacy by members of SJWT at the diocesan level to permit priests to bless same sex relationships and to marry same sex couples.


When Chris Rutty invited me to contribute this article around our involvement in advocating for same sex relationships, he reminded me of an open letter that I had written back in 2003.


The issue was very divisive at St. John's and many wonderful parishioners were greatly troubled at the thought of accepting same sex relationships on the same footing as heterosexual relationships. When the vestry motion, which advocated for official sanction of blessing of same sex unions, passed in 2004 we lost some wonderful parishioners, whom I miss to this day.


When I re-read my open letter, written in 2003, it brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. If you read the open letter you will see my emotional statement about the beauty and power of my oldest sister, Jean's, relationship with her partner and wife Aline.


It was particularly moving for me to re-read that open letter, written 20 years ago, because we had just celebrated Aline’s 80th birthday here in Toronto over the May 13th weekend. Jean and Aline traveled from Rhode Island, where they live, to celebrate this important birthday because this is where they were married. It is also because of the strong relationships they have forged with my three children and their families as well as other members of our extended family who traveled from other parts of the eastern US to celebrate Aline.




Sheila and Jean
Sheila and Jean

When my sister, Jean, and her partner, Aline, wanted to be married, they held their wedding here in Toronto because it was not legally possible to be married in Rhode Island. Gary Van der Meer, our priest at the time, was unable to perform the wedding because the Anglican church had not yet reached the point where the Toronto diocese permitted Anglican priests to do so. They were married by a United Church minister, but Gary attended the reception and helped us celebrate this wonderful occasion.


Now 20 years later, their marriage still serves as a model for me of what married love should be.


St. John's has always been active in its advocacy for LGBTQ+. With Reverend Margaret Rodriguez’s

leadership, we established queer eucharists which were held for many years at St. John's. These services were well attended and the liturgy attracted many people from outside of St. John’s.


A group of SJWT parishioners invested a significant amount of time, energy and skill in making a video demonstrating why the Anglican Church of Canada should permit same sex weddings to be celebrated by Anglican priests.


As we celebrate pride month, it is good to reflect on the important role that St. John's has played bringing this issue to the fore within the Anglican church. It is also good to reflect on how we can continue to be inclusive and build diversity at St. Johns because that journey is one that never ends.

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