Paterson formally assumes position during Saturday United Church service
The United Church has chosen an openly gay minister to as its next Moderator, but the Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson says his sexual orientation will not be a focus of his leadership.
Paterson was elected Moderator by the 41st General Council on August 16. The Vancouver-based minister describes himself as a passionate preacher and poet.
Paterson becomes the first gay leader of a major Christian denomination. At a news conference following his election he said 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.
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“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.
Paterson, 63, was elected Moderator in an election that lasted more than eight hours and included a record number of 15 nominees. He was chosen on the sixth 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. “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.”
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.