The acoustics of St. Dunstan’s Church made it nearly impossible to hear what Father Bill Brennan was saying most of the time. It was all so disorienting. I was anxious. I didn’t know what to do with myself and everyone else did.
Father Brennan said something, and everyone began shaking hands. An elderly woman in front of me turned around and shook my clammy hand.
“Peace be with you,” she said.
Caught off guard, I fumbled my reply: “P-peez-buh-wi you.”
She smiled and turned back to the front. I turned around, understanding and enjoying this practice.
“Peace be with you,” I said, shaking the hand of the woman behind me. She was standing alone, like me. I waved to a couple across the aisle.“Peace be with you.”
They smiled and responded the same.
The uneasiness came back when I thought about why I was in a church again. STU student Colin Briggs devoted years to a community just like this one and was told he could not volunteer for them any longer, for something he has no control of — he’s gay.
On Sept.18, The Crosspoint Wesleyan Church dismissed Briggs as reported by The New Brunswick Beacon on Sept. 20.
Pastor Mark Brewer of Crosspoint declined an interview with The Aquinian.
Briggs could not be reached before time of publication.
On Sept. 22 Crosspoint released a video of a part of Brewer’s sermon which intended but failed to address the reason for Briggs’ termination.
“Any decisions we make to remove people from a position of service are not done lightly, and often have deeper and much more complex issues than what appear on the surface. We rarely divulge that information to protect everyone involved,” Brewer says in the video. “It is disappointing to see how quickly people have jumped to conclusions.”
Two days earlier Brewer told The Beacon that Briggs’ dismissal would help “avoid any potential uproar that may be caused if families were to find out an openly gay male was working in the children’s ministry.”
I spoke with Aquinian alumni Meredith Gillis for help with the story before going to St. Dunstan’s for the 5 p.m. Saturday service.
Among many other things, Gillis wrote a catholic column for The AQ last year. She knew more about both Christianity and journalism than me.
“I’d assume there’s a lot of confusion there for [Briggs], where he’s figuring out if he still wants to go to the church anymore,” said Gillis. “There’s so many relationships he’s already going to have there, he’s not going to want to damage the church anymore by badmouthing and trashing the church.”
An active Roman Catholic for most of her life, she had spent a year living in Toronto away from her parents and away from religion. She went to York University and failed during the 2007-2008 year. It wasn’t until she found support in a baptist church in Toronto, months after failing out of York, that she was encouraged to return to school at STU in September 2009.
Gillis was lucky to have found that support. She said the approach many religious people take can scare people away from their guidance.
She gives the example of an unwanted pregnancy.
“Don’t tell her ‘don’t get an abortion because you’re going to hell.’ Tell her ‘I will help you.’ Don’t focus on the fact that she had sex outside of marriage. That’s between her and God.”
Inside St. Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Church, lights shone on the yellowy walls making the whole place golden. A huge gold-coloured sculpture of Jesus Christ on the cross hung on the brick wall behind the stage Father Brennan preached from.
Most in the crowd half-mumbled-half-sang hymns in unison. A stocky grey-haired man with black oil smudges on his blue collared button up and jeans was singing in a loud operatic voice, totally in a league of his own. A woman in black lacy dress down the pew from me looked down and silently mouthed the words with her eyes closed.
Afterwards, I brought up the Briggs story to whoever would listen outside the front doors. Some people said they didn’t have time. All who spoke up were receptive to inclusion of gays in church. “Open up your mind and see everything, everywhere around you. Peoples opinions are changing day by day, peoples lives are changing day by day,” churchgoer Jemel Beray said.
“We are in the modern times, we’re not living in the 16th century, where sexuality is not at all pronounced,” Beray said. “Widen up you horizons, and you will really find it is worth serving,”.
Still, Crosspoint told Briggs that he could return to the church to worship, but the next week he did not.
While this is all a nice sentiment, I was left with no conclusions. The church couldn’t give me answers, only a few people from within it. Disheartened, I went home and began writing.
Shortly after I got a message from John Staples saying he could meet me immediately.
Staples wrote a letter that was published by The Beacon and The Daily Gleaner upon hearing of Briggs’ story. The letter describes himself in a very similar place ten years ago.
He had been involved with Christianity for most of his life, attending and graduating bible college straight out of high school.
He knew he was different long before college.
“It really was a struggle with me, because I believed that the whole homosexuality thing was wrong,” said Staples.
He was a prominent figure in the Sunset Church of Fredericton for nearly eight years after graduating bible college in 1995.
In 2003 he was asked to abandon his role with Sunset. He had been seen by the church to be cavorting with known members of the gay community and word got back to the church.
Although, like Briggs, Staples wasn’t in an official leadership capacity, people still perceived it to be such. He was a go-to guy for any help the church needed and played keyboard in the music department.
Staples was allowed to continue attending the church, as Briggs had been offered, but soon after he stopped attending. He still held his faith, however damaged it was.
“I couldn’t give up on god. To me the concept of god was so real, that even when his people or his leadership didn’t handle my situation the right way, I still had that faith and I still had that security in a higher power,” he said.
Staples believes if there is anyway to bridge the gap between the gay community and the Christian community, it will have to come when both sides are willing to listen to each other.
“I think that there can be some education, there can be some acceptance born out of that, provided everyone keeps the right spirit. If people seek to learn about each other… I think things can be better. I don’t foresee gay volunteers in those churches. It’s all by individual case, by individual church.”