Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Camping to Toronto and Return

Every two years or so UFMCC holds a General Conference and, in 1985, Toronto was the host. One of the people attending from MCCVancouver was Michel. He never seemed to have much money so he could not afford a Greyhound ticket - let alone one by train or by air. The answer was for him to travel with me in my car and we take camping gear with us.

Both he and I had traveled across Canada more than once so we opted to drive across the US. We drove down to Everett, Washington and then east along US Route 2.

On that first evening we were in Spokane where the city's main campground is down in the valley on the banks of the Columbia River. The date was July 4 and, as we settled into our sleeping bags, the sounds around us made me think that we were in a war zone - firecrackers, rockets and the like everywhere! However, we did manage to sleep and, in the morning, we looked for a restaurant serving breakfast and then continued on driving - this time on route I-90.

Into Idaho, through Couer d'Alene and then quickly into Montana through Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Billings - all names which were familiar to me due to my love of geography. We camped near to the latter city.

The following morning we passed the turnoff to the Little Bighorn Battle Monument which I would have loved to have visited but my travel companion did not share my love of history so he was not interested - he just wanted to get to Toronto. The Interstate took us around the badlands in South Dakota but we did not stop there either - just kept on driving to Sioux Falls where we located another campground.

We did go into that city and, after some searching, found the local gay bar. There was a formidable looking lesbian who was bar tending to whom I commented that we had difficulty in finding the place. Her response? "It's supposed to be difficult to find!" Sioux Falls is not a major city and it is situated in conservative farming/ranching country.

Our night there was NOT restful - the campground was in the middle of a freeway interchange so there were the sounds of motor vehicles - especially large trucks - all night long.

The next day was Wednesday and we drove on across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and the tip of Indiana on our way into Michigan. We passed by Chicago near the rush hour but kept to the 'Ring Road' which did somewhat cut down on the congestion. By the time it was dusk we pulled into a motel in Benton Harbor for a more comfortable night. On the following day we drove across Michigan, crossed into Ontario at Windsor, and continued on to Toronto.

By this time the Fellowship had grown to a size that merited more facilities than in 1981 when I attended in Houston. The general meetings were held in the larger lecture halls on the campus of the University of Toronto which were air conditioned. The evening services, though, were held in the older St Paul's/Trinity United Church on Bloor Street West. There were hundreds of delegates and friends at the Conference so the main floor of the church was full and the overflow were up in the balcony. It was so hot that some people fainted and it became common to see an ambulance parked on the side street outside waiting in case somebody else had to be rushed to the hospital.

Because of the heat, the final service was moved to an auditorium in the OISE Building (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) which was air conditioned.

Arrangements had been made for billeting the delegates and I shared a room in Annersley Hall (a United Church of Canada residence which is on the campus of Victoria College - one of the 'church colleges' associated with the university).
Ironically, that building is just down the block from where I have been living for these past 15 years.

Before leaving home I had received a letter from the Pastor of the MCC congregation in Auckland, New Zealand asking me if he and his partner could be hosted for a few days in Vancouver while on their way back across the Pacific. I invited them to join Michel and I on our camping trip to Vancouver. We acquired another tent and two more sleeping bags to accommodate them.

The Pastor was a nice man - but his young partner was a spoiled brat! While in Toronto we had gone up to the top of the CN Tower and, on the final Saturday of the Conference, Michel and I took them down to Niagara Falls for the afternoon. The young one got into one of his frequent snits and threatened to leave and walk over one of the bridges to Buffalo. I thought, "Yeah sure! Lots of luck, kid, in getting across the border!"

Monday arrived and we left for the long drive home. I went up highways 11 and 17 to the shores of Lake Superior. We found a camping site along the shore where we spent the night - and went for a dip in the warm water. I had driven past Lake Superior more than once but that was the only time that I have actually stopped along the way to enjoy the spot. The dip was very refreshing.

On the second day we drove west northwest to a campground in the vicinity of Kenora, Ontario - and the home of voracious mosquitoes. We swatted away and survived.

The third day was a shorter drive to Winnipeg and then on across the Prairies. As I mentioned much earlier in these writings, that region of Canada can be hit by fairly violent summer storms. As we were following the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan we encountered a series of them - continuous flashes of lightning, deafening thunder, torrential rain (occasionally mixed with hail) and strong winds.

The Trans Canada Highway rarely passes through any of the towns but is now situated a mile or two north or south with signage and access roads connecting the highway to the settlements. Where an access road met the highway we saw a car that had been towing a trailer/caravan - the latter was on its side.

The next morning, on a radio newscast, we heard that there was a tornado in the area of that accident and it resulted in the overturned trailer. That is the only time in my life that I have been in close proximity to a tornado (and I hope that that will be the only time).

Back in Vancouver the World Council of Churches had commenced meetings on the campus of UBC and two very famous clergymen attended. One was the Rev Ian Paisley from Belfast, Northern Ireland - and the second was Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa. I had no intention of listening to Ian Paisley but I feel honored to have been able to hear the Archbishop. What a lovely and gracious man!

You may have come to the conclusion that I love traveling and meeting various people? Well - I do!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Geoff and Terry

In this submission I plan to write about two men who became close friends (of mine and of each other) over a period of about ten years.

Geoff had a university degree in Environmental Sciences and he was a part of the crew which studied the possible environmental impact of Trans-Canada pipelines - from the Prairies out to B.C., and eastward to Ontario and Quebec. He was a gay man and identified with the leather/levi community and he was an integral member of the Zodiacs mentioned in a previous blog.

He was a great guy but with one trait which bugged me - he was quite predatory. If he saw a new and interesting face in the Gay Community he would set off in pursuit whether the other man was attached to somebody else or not.

He was a pretty good cook, though - he baked his own bread and, for a number of years, he invited folks to partake of his Christmas dinner. Always it was so very English and quite delicious.

It was during the 1980s when pipeline construction was at its height that he flew East on Sunday evening returning to Vancouver on Friday evening. I was the one designated to drive out to the airport to pick him up and, sometimes, he had one or two others in tow - especially politicians who were returning from Ottawa for the weekend. One evening my passenger in the front seat beside me was the Honorable Pat Carney who was a Cabinet Minister in a Tory government. While both Geoff and I lived in the West End, Ms. Carney lived just around English Bay in Kitsilano.

Geoff wrote and published a book titled "The Urban Aboriginal" which is a study of the 'Leather/Levi' sub-culture within the Gay Community. Near the beginning of the book I found a quote from myself and, upon reading it, I felt flattered!
Geoff  Mains and myself standing in front of the ruins of St Johns United Church in the West End which had been destroyed in a fire.

In the mid-1980s Geoff moved to San Francisco to be beside the perceived center of the leather/levi sub-culture in North America. I stayed at Geoff's place on at least one visit to San Francisco.

He passed away from an AIDS-related condition towards the end of the 1980s.

Terry and I met in an unusual way - I was in San Francisco to attend a leather/levi function and those functions attracted large crowds always. I was making my way from one part of the venue to another when something - or somebody - distracted me so I wasn't watching where I was going - and walked right into Terry. I stopped to apologize and our friendship began right there.

Terry Kotas standing on the Seawall (Stanley Park) with the suburb of West Vancouver in the background.

Terry was the only child of a couple who lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin where they managed a small company which distributed packaged condiments and spices to stores in that area.

After a few visits with me - and with Geoff - Terry decided to send his parents on a tour of the Canadian Rockies ending up in Vancouver. He asked if I would meet them and take them touring around the city? I agreed.

They were an absolutely delightful couple. I took them on a circular tour (on a very rainy November Saturday afternoon) around Vancouver. We went west through Kitsilano out to the University of British Columbia, where I pointed out some notable buildings, around Point Grey and along Southwest Marine Drive to Marpole and then back downtown via Little Mountain and the exquisite sunken gardens in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Mrs Kotas had told me - near the beginning of the drive - that she and her husband would take me out to dinner to my favorite restaurant. There was one excellent Gay-owned and operated restaurant near the downtown core so I drove them there.

When we entered the restaurant I neglected to ask if my favorite French-Canadian waiter was working and if we could have a table in his section. We lucked out - he was working and we were in his section.

When the meal ended Mr Kotas paid the tab and left a generous tip. As his business had to do with restaurant supplies, he stopped to 'talk shop' with the manager. In the meantime our waiter passed by and Mrs. Kotas stopped him to say, "Marcel - you are the most wonderful waiter!". Without batting an eye he grabbed her hand, kissed the back of it and said, "Madame, with customers as lovely as you are it is easy!"

Mrs Kotas was a short dumpy lady in late middle-age and I thought that she was about to swoon!

A year or so later Terry went on a visit to Spain where he contracted meningitis and died.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Kansas City

The next General Council Meeting that was not in California was in Kansas City, Missouri. This was in early spring and the weather made this visit memorable!

I flew from Vancouver to Denver, changed aircraft, and flew on to Kansas City. Bev Baptiste - the Pastor of the Winnipeg congregation - was there as well. Each of we attendees were billeted among members of the KC congregation and Bev and I were sent to the same home on the east side of the city - about a half hour bus ride from the church where the meetings were convened.

Our hosts - a lesbian couple - welcomed us and then left. They and their children were going to visit family outside of the city for that week.

All well and good - except that an ice storm swept through the area causing power failures plus icy conditions on roads and sidewalks. Bev and I were given separate rooms to sleep in which were freezing much of the time (the furnace was electrically turned off and on so, with no power, it was off all of the time).

The state of the weather in that part of North America was so severe that it was reported on the news across the continent. My roommate and his partner heard about it and telephoned MCC Kansas City to see if I was OK!

However, we did survive and did attend the meetings.

The church was a large one and was located in a part of the city that had become inhabited by mainly black people - the major street in that area was lined by shops and restaurants operated by blacks. On our last day there it was suggested that we patronize a restaurant on that strip that some of the others had discovered (a couple of our group were black Americans) and we went there.

We were welcomed by the proprietors and staff, given menus and we selected our orders.

None of the items on the menu itself seemed to be a complete meal but were items which we were free to combine in whatever way that struck our fancy. There were a few items of which I had never heard before but I did recognize some from having heard of them - or read of them in books.

That meal was delicious, memorable - and fun!

While we were eating other patrons did come in but, as our group was fairly large, there were no more vacant tables.

Yes - I did get across the state line to the twin Kansas City. A member of the Kansas City, Missouri church took us to a lovely family restaurant for Sunday brunch over there.

On Monday we returned to our various homes.

However, the weather conditions remained a problem. My ticket was, naturally, the reverse of the outward bound one - Kansas City to Denver to Vancouver. Because of the stormy weather in and around Denver, the outbound flight to KC was late which meant that the flight from Denver to Vancouver would leave without me. I had the telephone number of a Denver friend on me so I thought that I would call him from the airport (this was when the main airport for Denver was still Stapleton on the west side of the city - now it is a huge newer airport out on the plains to the east).

When we landed in Denver I went to the United Airlines counter to see about my ticket and a switch if necessary. However, there was a larger jet leaving for Seattle in a couple of hours. I changed my ticket to that flight. The aircraft was far from being full so there was plenty of room for each of we passengers to sit by ourselves and to take advantage of an entire seat on which to rest and to doze.

While waiting to board this aircraft in Denver, I began a conversation with another younger man who was on his way to Bellingham, Washington. I had telephoned my roommate in Vancouver to ask him to drive down to Seattle to pick me up and I offered a lift to Bellingham (which is about 15 - 20 miles south of the border) to the other fellow.

It was the middle of the night but we had a pleasant drive before dropping off our passenger at his home.

The border crossing was quick and easy so we were back home in Vancouver just as morning was breaking.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers.

As the Fellowship grew and more congregations were added, the General Council was called upon to meet fairly frequently. By this time the Fort Lauderdale, Florida congregation had grown to be a fair size, they owned their own property, and they had rooms for meetings and the like.

It was in February in the early 1980s that a meeting was called and Nigel - our Treasurer in Western Canada - and I had to find a way to get there. In the travel section of the Vancouver Sun I saw an ad for reduced fares on American Airlines so I went to a nearby agency to book the tickets.

The agent whom I saw was a gay acquaintance - and he had not heard of the discount prices offered by American Airlines! However, when he went online, he saw that I was correct. However - there was one problem - American Airlines did not serve Vancouver so we had to book the tickets out of SeaTac Airport in Seattle.

The flight was from Seattle to Dallas where we had to change aircraft. What made that interesting was the fact that the air terminal in Dallas was being renovated so we were forced to wait in a narrow corridor before we could board the second plane. Fortunately, there was a plate glass window opposite to where we were standing so we could watch the servicing of the aircraft that we were about to board.

We arrived in Miami near midnight and had to catch a shuttle bus to Fort Lauderdale where we were met by our hosts. I stayed with an acquaintance who lived on the west side of the city. While there was a public transportation system in Fort Lauderdale, I never saw a bus and had to rely upon others to chauffeur me around. As I had encountered a similar situation in Houston, I wondered if bus stop signs and benches were merely a part of the decor in southern US cities?

As my birthday falls in mid-February, I was looking forward to treating myself to a day on one of the famous beaches. The weather forecast - thunderstorms with possible tornadoes - squashed that.

The meetings came to a successful conclusion and we flew home via Miami - Dallas - Seattle (where Nigel had left his car) and a quick drive home.

A year or so later was another meeting at the church in Fort Lauderdale. This time I flew alone and on United Airlines through O'Hare Airport in Chicago. As the plane was making its descent into Chicago a flight attendant read a list of the gates where ongoing passengers were to go for the continuation of their trips. However - she left out one - my flight on to Fort Lauderdale. I had to look at the monitors when I was in the terminal, find my flight and then the gate. I was the last person to get on that plane - the closest that I have ever come to missing a flight.

At previous meetings I had become friends with Troy Perry's cousin, the Rev Lee Carlton, who was the District Coordinator for South Florida. The previous time that I had seen him he invited me to take a vacation week to visit with him and his partner in Fort Myers.

This time the location of the meetings had moved from the church to the Holiday Inn on 'Alligator Alley' on the west side of town. The Holiday Inn had a restaurant but another delegate and I opted for breakfast at a truck stop immediately across that highway - grits were served there! However, there were no traffic lights nor pedestrian crossings nearby so we had to take the risk of dashing across the two lane highway when there were breaks in the traffic. We weren't hit.

After the Conference I rode with Lee westward along 'Alligator Alley' to Naples and then north to Fort Meyers. At long last I was being given the opportunity of seeing the Everglades up close - only most of the route was across the saw grass plain - we did not see any part of the Everglades until we were close to the west side of the peninsula and near Naples.

On a visit to a gay bar in Lauderdale I met one of the members of Lee's congregation in Fort Meyers. Instead of staying for much of the week with Lee and his partner, I stayed at the home of the other man. He was a native of the area (and the Director of the County Art Gallery) so he was a very informative host.

He took me everywhere - including to the off-shore island of Santabel and one or two others. I was impressed by the large signs along the highways telling motorists that it was a 'hurricane evacuation route'. That was important to know if a hurricane was threatening that area.

My host parked his car near the wooden bridges that crossed the waterways and we walked over. This afforded me a magnificent view of the waterfowl many of which were far more exotic looking than those found in our northern climate. For instance, that was the only place - outside of a zoo - where I saw a flamingo.

One day Lee and his partner took me on a picnic to a small river between Fort Meyers and Naples where we rented a canoe. We paddled up this little river towards a mangrove swamp. We were laughing and talking as we paddled along and inadvertently startled three enormous turtles which were sunning themselves on large mangrove roots. When we came around the bend we heard the 'plops' as they dove into the cover of the water.

Lee was convinced that we would see the 'granddaddy of all alligators' when we reached the source of the stream. However - 'granddaddy-gator' was no where in sight. We paddled back to where we rented the canoe and, when we reached the large mangrove root, one of the turtles was back on its perch. Again it dove into the water as we approached.

We had brought a picnic lunch with us so we sat on a bench up above the canoe rental to enjoy the food. While eating we saw a medium-sized alligator swimming upstream - the trip was not a complete loss!

While I was there Lee had to make pastoral calls on a couple of congregations to the north and he took me along. The furthest north that we went was to Bradenton - a name that I knew from baseball's 'Spring Training' and - also - as the winter headquarters of one of the great circuses that used to travel around North America every summer.

Soon the vacation was over and I had to fly back to Vancouver.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

District Coordinator

As the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) grew, at the same time there grew a need for regional governance. To answer this need, 'Districts' were created and each had a coordinator.

While there were only three congregations in Western Canada - Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver - it was considered to be a 'District' due to the distance between those cities.

The man who was District Coordinator when I became Pastor of the Vancouver congregation resigned a year or so later and I was telephoned at home by the Rev. Elder Troy Perry who asked me if I would assume the role. I was surprised by the request but agreed. This meant that I had a supervisory role when it came to the three existing congregations. Also it meant that I was expected to attend meetings of the Board of Elders and District Coordinators and General Conferences as well as trouble shooting when problems arose in the three existing churches.

My first trip out of town in that capacity was to go to Calgary for a weekend visit and in the company of the District Treasurer - another Vancouver man. Our flight from Vancouver to Calgary was on Saturday morning and our Air Canada flight left at the same time as a flight to Montreal. When we arrived in Calgary my friend's luggage arrived at the baggage carousel but mine did not - it had gone to Montreal.

What was so funny was that there was a 'Hoedown' scheduled that evening at which I was expected to be. I was wearing a suit and tie while my casual clothes were in the missing suitcase! Not to worry, the Pastor of the Calgary church - while a woman - was my size so she outfitted me in a pair of her jeans and plaid shirt! I felt silly but I don't think that anybody really noticed.

Following that were a number of trips to Calgary and Edmonton and - when the church was formed there - to Winnipeg over the following few years.

At the same time I began flying with some regularity to Conferences in San Francisco and Los Angeles. On one of the latter trips the conference was moved to a gay resort in Cathedral City - a part of the Palm Springs metropolitan area. For that conference a roomy van/bus had been rented which Troy Perry drove out there from the Los Angeles office. As we got underway I couldn't resist quipping, "I wonder if the Pope drives the Cardinals to meetings too?"

On one of those trips - when I went to proceed through US Customs and Immigration at the Vancouver International Airport - I was denied entry to the US until I was interviewed by a US Immigration Supervisor. I thought that I had encountered some bigotry (my sexual preference had been guessed) but the senior official snorted and passed me on through.

For some meetings in Los Angeles (the Holiday Inn by the Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood), I drove down. On one of those trips I had a young lesbian couple traveling with me and they borrowed my car in order to visit relatives while I was at the meetings. On our way back we stopped in San Francisco too so they could enjoy a day or two in that famous city.

During that time Troy Perry set out to film the story of UFMCC. In Vancouver I had met a young man - Greg Coutts - who had a background in filming so I spoke to Troy about him and to Greg about Troy. Troy was coming to Vancouver on one of his visits so it was arranged that I would introduce them to each other at a gay bar (The Shaggy Horse).

This bar had been a restaurant before that incarnation so it had a mezzanine level with tables from where patrons could look down on the main floor. From the entrance off of the street there was a lobby area on the side of which was the coat check.

The main serving bar was down a few steps and, beyond it, was the main seating area and a small dance floor. On weekend nights - when the bar was the busiest - patrons were asked to avoid the crush around the serving bar by going up stairs, walking to the rear, and then down a second staircase to the rear of the dance floor across which one could walk to the main bar and 'cruising area'.

Troy and I were there before Greg arrived and, when he did, he went upstairs while looking down to see if he could spot me. Troy was standing beside me and each spotted the other. I did not have to make introductions as they gravitated to each other automatically.

The film was created and released and then, on a long weekend a year or so later, Greg was asked to house sit for some friends while they were out of town. When they returned they were shocked to find Greg dead - as I, Troy and everybody else was shocked.

Greg's funeral was held at MCC-Vancouver and was well attended. I believe that Troy told me later the result of the autopsy but I do not remember what the cause of death was deemed to be.

There were three other extended trips that I took while I was District Coordinator. I will describe them in the next two blogs.

Monday, 19 December 2011


Community is a group of people living (existing) in a common bond with each other - more or less.

Community can be the neighborhood where we live, it can be a common ethnicity, it can be a commonly held belief system - there are many factors which describe a community. Thanks to the 'AIDS Crisis' a 'community' was formed - and it consisted of a number of other communities (Drag, Leather/Levi, Lesbian, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and others}. Also, I should mentioned 'Allies' as well for, without their support, would we have come through those years as well as we did?

The Metropolitan Community Churches did become a focus for the care, the support and the funerals that we did face - and are facing. In that - at least in Vancouver - we had strong allies. There was Integrity (LGBT Anglicans), Affirm (LGBT United Church folk) and Dignity (LGBT Roman Catholics) and each of these groups had/have strong non-LGBT supporters.

While the Roman Catholic Archbishop was not supportive, there was a strong Dignity chapter which met at St Paul's Roman Catholic Church - a small house of worship located in Gastown and pastored by a priest of the Franciscan Order. Attached to that church were a group of nuns who were Franciscans as well. The priest who gave his blessing to the Dignity Chapter was Father Celestine. Every so often I was invited to attend one of their meetings and to partake in the Mass. If I shied away from accepting the host and the cup, Father Cel would chide me.

Unfortunately, Father Cel's health was not the best so he retired to the 'Mother House' in Upper New York State. A younger priest was appointed to that parish and, while he was a nice man, he did not approve of me - nor any other non-Catholic - receiving the sacraments. It is sad how old customs/bigotry can get in the way.

The MCC Pastor at the church in San Diego, California organized an AIDS Vigil on one weekend and the idea caught on.

By that time the location used by MCC Vancouver for Sunday worship had changed to St Paul's Anglican in the West End. The Rector was the Rev David Crawley and he and I became firm friends (later he was appointed 'Bishop of Kootenai' and moved to Kelowna).

Once again the generosity of Michael W. in Vancouver has provided me with another appropriate photo. This is St Paul's Anglican/Episcopal Church in the West End and where MCCVancouver rented worship space.

Under his leadership the governing body of St Paul's offered us the use of their Chapel for the Vigil Weekend. The Chapel was in the basement and had a separate entrance directly from the street. The weekend was successful and I was very moved when I saw a group of the 'Franciscan Sisters' coming to pray and to pay their respects.

While on the subject of 'Communities' I will share about my involvement with The Zodiacs - a leather/Levi fellowship. We were a small group but we had an association 'In Brotherhood' with groups in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

                            Welcome to the Pemberton Valley where the campsite is situated

One activity which each group organized was a 'weekend camp' at which men from the other groups would attend as well. One of those was very memorable.

Somebody discovered a small campground nestled between the highway that began in North Vancouver and continued through Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and went on to Lillooet and joined the Cariboo Highway near Cache Creek - and the railway tracks. A few miles north of Pemberton was a small pass through a mountain range. In that pass was a small meadow beside a mountain tarn and the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway. The traffic was light - both on the highway and along the railway - so we were undisturbed. We were up there from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon and we were celebrating some event when a southbound train passed through. To say that consternation was exhibited by the railway crew would be an understatement! We were just horsing around - there was nothing crude.

                                    A field with bales of hay waiting to be moved to storage

When I was offered the position of Pastor of the MCCVancouver congregation I asked if I could plan the Service of Installation? My request was granted so I invited my brother Zodiacs to be ushers, two people from the gay First Nations group to read the opening prayer in English and in Cree, the Scripture lessons were read by representatives of the court (and 'in costume'), while the sermon was preached by a dear friend and supporter of the Gay Community. This was the Rev. Sylvia Pennington who wrote two books: "But, Lord, They're Gay", "Ex-Gays There Are None" plus a third one the title of which I cannot remember.

Different threads inter-weaving at the same time but, in my books, all valid.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

AIDS Crisis

It was in the late 1970s or early 1980s when gay men started to become ill from a 'mysterious virus' and all sorts of rumors sprang up. Soon, though, it was determined that the virus was HIV. For years the source of that virus remained a mystery and all sorts of 'conspiracy theories' became common - not the least of which was that German scientists during the Nazi era had created it in order to 'wipe out' undesirables like Black people.

Yes, it developed first in Africa and was spread by biting insects and did affect the native African population more than any other - but it was NOT a 'conspiracy' but a new viral strain.

In North America and Europe it did impact the Gay male communities more than any other - but was not confined to that demographic despite the claims of religious fundamentalists!

The virus soon had an impact upon the Gay Community in Vancouver as well as in many other North American communities. By coincidence, the man who was named as 'Patient Zero' by researchers into the spread of the virus, was living in Vancouver and I knew him.

Gaetan was a very handsome French-Canadian fellow from Quebec City whose occupation was as an Air Canada flight attendant. He was 'Gay' and he adored sex and was quite promiscuous. Also, having frequent 'lay overs' in many cities he met and interacted with many other men.

Gaetan did resent being singled out - possibly unfairly - as 'The Source' but, I guess, the ball had to stop somewhere. The last time that I saw him was when he asked me to have a cup of coffee with him. As I have said, he was very handsome but, by that time, his face was becoming disfigured by ugly blotches (Karposi Sarcoma).

There are a number of hospitals in Vancouver - as there are in most cities - but the one that became 'Aids Central' was St Paul's on Burrard Street at the edge of the West End where lived the highest concentration of LGBT people.

I came to be in there visiting on many afternoons - I saw congregants, friends and strangers. It was sad and tough.

Also, I was called upon to preside at a number of funerals for those who did not survive - and to attend more for friends who were of other faiths. I salute all of them.

The HIV/AIDS patients were congregated on one floor of that hospital with the nurses' station in the middle. One afternoon I called into the room of the youngest patient - he was 18 or so - where the mother, aunt and 'AIDS buddy' (Gay men volunteered - and were trained - as buddies for HIV-positive people) were sitting by the bedside. That 'AIDS Buddy' was a member of MCC-Vancouver and I knew him well.

Another friend of mine had been admitted as well and his room was across the way. I went over there to see Ted for a few minutes and then returned to the first room. When I entered the room the mother, aunt and AIDS buddy were no where in sight and the bed sheet had been pulled up over the body - the lad had passed away in the interim.

There were two men who were a couple and whom I knew socially. Both became HIV positive and one of them became ill and then died. Later I saw the survivor and chatted with him. Jan had been a patient in St Paul's too and Jeff told me that the nurses had commented to them how remarkable it was that all of the patients on that ward had a continuous stream of visitors - a phenomena not seen in wards where patients were suffering from cancer or other diseases.

One of the lads who attended MCC-Vancouver became ill and passed away. His family lived in Vancouver and looked after the funeral arrangements. They belonged to a fundamentalist congregation and their Pastor led the funeral service in a chapel in a funeral home. A number of us attended and were shocked by how irrelevant was the message from the Pastor. After the funeral two women from our church asked if we couldn't have another service more relevant to the deceased and to we, his friends? Normally I would not agree to that but I did this time. We needed to say our 'Good-byes' in a way that was relevant to those who knew him as he really was.

I had a gay friend who was a nurse at the Provincial Hospital - Woodlands - for mentally ill children. I had been in that hospital visiting - and in the counterpart here in Ontario - and I have a huge amount of respect for those who work in those places.

My friend owned his home and, one day, he had gone shopping. When he returned he found that his house had been broken into and that the burglars were still inside. He rushed in, was attacked, and was killed.

We had a number of mutual friends and one of them - his Executor - asked if I would conduct his Memorial Service? I agreed - although, there was one stipulation which I found difficult. He was not 'out' to his family so I was told not to make any reference to his sexual preference. That made me uncomfortable - and I came to a realization that his family did know.

One of the tabloids reported on the murder with the screaming headline "Murderers Splattered With AIDS Blood"! Give me a break!

There were identical twin brothers who were Gay and one of them had a magnificent singing voice (he had attended auditions for the Metropolitan Opera Company which were held in Seattle). The last time that I saw him was at an AIDS Benefit concert in Victoria. He looked ill but he sang magnificently the song from "Carousal" - "You'll Never Walk Alone". I don't think that there was a dry eye in the theater.

When I moved to Toronto in 1989 Gay men were still dieing in alarming numbers. Now there is a magnificent 'AIDS Memorial' in Cawthra Park on Church Street. On the Thursday evening of Pride Week there is a candlelight service in that park when the names of more people - all genders and all ages - are added to the memorial. Very beautiful and very moving.

I am adding two photos. The first is of the AIDS Memorial on Church Street as seen in daylight. The second is of the AIDS Vigil held on the Thursday evening of Pride week. 

Hundreds of people of all ages and every gender gathered together in memory. A very moving experience.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

MCC Vancouver

I should make notes for myself before beginning these blogs as, sometimes, I omit to include relevant material. I am beginning this blog by sharing items that should have been included in an earlier entry.

1981 was the year when I assumed the Pastorate of MCC Vancouver and, by coincidence, it was the year of the notorious raids on male bathhouses by the Toronto Police Department. The year when I am writing this is 2011 - 30 years later - yet that horrific event is still very much in the collective psyche here in Toronto.

There was a meeting of the Vancouver Police/Gay Committee shortly thereafter and I vividly remember a comment by one of the officers who was meeting with us. As events, thought patterns and the like usually worked their way from east to west across Canada, the worry of the officer was that pressure would be put upon them to follow up in Vancouver with what had happened in Toronto. Fortunately, what he feared never materialized.

After the 'Bath Raids' there was an influx of LGBT folk from Toronto and they brought their memories with them. A friend of mine (who was one of them) was severely roughed up in a 'Gay bashing'. I asked him if he had reported the incident to the Police? He replied, "No. I am too afraid of the Police to do so." That saddened me no end and, when I mentioned this chat to the officers meeting with us, they were saddened too.

I had my apartment burgled twice - but different apartments. The second happened one Saturday evening not long after I had moved into that address. I rented a two bedroom apartment on the ground floor just off of the lobby. The windows on one side looked out upon the driveway to the upper level of the parking facility while the front windows - including those in the master bedroom - looked out upon the decorative shrubbery beside the curved driveway.

It was Mom's birthday and I had taken her out for dinner. After dining I brought her back to the apartment so she could see my new place. I put my key in the lock but the door would not open - the deadbolt had been moved into place. Mom was in her 70s and was becoming infirm so, not wanting to distress her (and not knowing exactly what/who was on the other side of the door) I suggested that she see the apartment at another time and that I take her home.

When I returned - about an hour later - my roommate was home and had managed to get the door open. Little had been stolen but the thief's entry - and escape - were obvious. The prime window looking out onto the ramp had a small sliding part at the bottom. The felon must have been really tiny as he had squeezed himself in through there and when nobody was coming or going from that part of the parking facility. He had exited out of the window in my roommate's area falling into a large bush and then escaping up the street.

I mentioned this at a meeting of the Police/Gay Committee and one of the officers present asked if he could come by my place to look at my security. I gave permission and he came by. My security was adequate - I was just a victim of a one in a million chance.

Now to return to what I intended to be the theme of this blog.

I believe that the ministry is my true calling and I was grateful to be able to return.

Pastoring a church in a new denomination which caters mainly to the spiritual needs of a special group of people scorned or ignored by most other churches is not easy. It is surprising how many people flee their 'persecution' but bring all of the baggage with them - and then wonder why it does not fit into the new place. One of my biggest problems in leading the congregation was that very fact.

However, it would be false - and completely unfair - for me to say that that was the prime concern of my life - let alone of the congregation.

We were a really diverse lot and included great individuals - and some right royal 'pains in the butt'! Our congregation grew to anywhere from 40 to 75 on a Sunday evening. We had hymns, Scripture, sermon, anthem, communion - and a Coffee Hour - just like practically every other church in the city.

Among these people were some wonderful characters. I wont mention all of them but a few who really stick out.

One was an elderly Jewish gentleman. He had been born and raised in Czechoslovakia, had married and had sired a child. By profession he was a philosopher and he taught philosophy in high schools.

When the Third Reich came to power in Germany and began to invade neighboring countries this man was whisked away by family friends and ended up in Beijing where he had a teaching engagement. When the Communists came to power in China he fled to Vancouver and taught at a couple of private schools until he retired.

We became friends and, every once in a while, he would invite me over for dinner. There was one aspect of the dinner invitation that I found difficult. This good man absolutely adored vodka so, beside our respective plates, were water glasses full of vodka - and neat with no mixers or other additives. I loathe vodka but I had to be as polite as possible. He served wine as well which I could handle.

There were two young men who came to the Sunday evening services dressed in drag - and they - especially one of them - looked stunning in female attire. (The Jewish gentleman refused to believe that they were not real women)! Their relationship blossomed and they decided to have a Holy Union (this preceded legal same gender weddings which were approved in Canada in 2003).

One of the lads was from Agassiz - the community near which are the two prisons mentioned in an earlier blog. Aside from the prisons, the main industry in Agassiz is dairy farming. The mother of the boy from there gave her complete blessing to the Union and agreed that it be held in her living room. All of the neighbors were invited to attend but only the women showed up - the men (including the father of the groom) were no where in sight.

It was a lovely service - and, yes, the cross dresser did cross dress.

I will share more about my ministry in the next blog.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Vancouver Notes

In a sense, this blog is a continuation of the last one. but, before I continue, I will add a few photos taken around English Bay and Stanley Park in 2002 as well as some taken by my friend, Michael.

               English Bay with Stanley Park to the right and some of the Coast Mountains to the north

      From Third Beach past Second Beach to English Bay with West End towers in the background.

Many mountains dominate the Vancouver area and - when it comes to the City - the prime peaks are the Lions. Actually, they are behind the suburbs of North and West Vancouver. The foliage in the foreground is on the trees in Stanley Park. Once more I am thanking Michael W. for his generosity in allowing me to use some of his photos.

For many many years the West End of Vancouver (the isthmus that extends from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Store) has been a forest of residential towers and, more or less, an affluent residential area. Yet it also became home to a hooker/hustler 'stroll' much to the annoyance of most of the residents.

                                                   Some of the Totem Poles in the Park

                                              Psst! Watch out for that scavenger!

One evening a battle between residents and strollers erupted into a full scale riot. An outcome of that was the formation of a committee in order to address the issues that were the root cause. Once the committee was formed, the Vancouver Police Department agreed to have regular meetings with gay men (why Lesbians, Bi and Trans people were not included, I have no idea). The purpose of this committee was to give a part of the Gay Community a forum in which to air problems between themselves and the Police Department.

The Rev. Bob Wolfe was a founding member of that committee and, when he left, Dave Gunton and then myself were also a part of it. We met with a senior officer of the Vancouver Police Department once a month and in a room at Headquarters.

The location of the Police Headquarters is on Main Street between East Hastings and the waterfront. In other words - the Downtown East Side. When the meeting ended we civilians would retire to a nearby cafe (usually in Chinatown which is a block away). However, one afternoon the unofficial 'leader' of our group suggested that we go to another place for a change. He mentioned the name of our destination but it did not ring a bell with me.

Whenever I was out on official church business, always I wore a clerical shirt and collar. It was when we were inside the new establishment that I realized that it was a 'strip joint'. I was embarrassed - but not nearly as embarrassed as the waitress who came to take our order!

The issues that we dealt with most frequently were problems of men looking for sexual encounters in inappropriate places. One of those was a men's washroom situated beside a kiddie's playground in Stanley Park. Our response was that, in all likelihood, these men were 'straight' men from the north shore suburbs who were on their way to or from work. We told the Police that they would never read our publications so the only way to deal with that problem was to arrest a few.

A hotel on Robson Street - which had a shopping mall beneath the building - also complained of inappropriate activity in their washroom. Our response to that case was for them to redesign the washroom to make it an inhospitable place for sexual activity to happen.

One day I received a telephone call from a distraught man. He was bisexual, was married and he worked for the local transit company. He had been arrested in a washroom of a Hudson Bay store in a suburban shopping mall. He was terrified that his wife would find out and sue for a divorce and that the Transit Authority would fire him.

I could not address the former but I told him that one of the men in my congregation was an executive with his union, therefore he had no fear from that source.

Shortly after I received that call I was asked to come out and address a Human Sexuality class at Trinity University which is located in the outer suburb of Langley. A visit to the department store in that shopping center was a short detour from my route to the university so I left early enough to be able to make a short stop at the mall.

I found the washroom, went in. and was appalled by the design of the room. The next morning I called the store, asked for the manager and made an appointment for myself and another member of our committee to drop by to see him.

As it so happened, the store manager was appalled by what was happening and really wanted to find a solution to the problem that did not involve arresting people. At that meeting was the head of Store Security. I, and my friend, strongly suggested that the washrooms in the store be completely remodeled to become a place unfriendly to sexual activity. The manager also shared that the arrests included a wide range of men - including a clerk from a neighboring store, a local clergyman - and a member of the Hell's Angels biker gang!

I should add that, being the 'Guest Speaker' at the Human Sexuality Class at Trinity - a fundamentalist backed university - made me a "Daniel in the Lion's Den". I was welcomed but not really appreciated.

A few sunset shots courtesy of a friend who now lives in a condominium tower on English Bay

Ahh, Vancouver - how I love my home city!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Prison Chaplaincy

Not long after I assumed the role of 'Pastor' of MCC Vancouver it was suggested that we create a newsletter to be distributed to the registered congregants and placed in public places to be picked up by anybody interested. The congregation did not have much spare money so the publication was run off on a Gestetner machine and distributed at church as well as in various Gay businesses around town - including the King's Castle Hotel on Granville Street.

In the mail one day I received a letter from a prisoner who was incarcerated in the Agassiz Mountain Institution which is about 60 miles east of Vancouver on the north side of the Fraser River. The writer of the letter never told me how he came to have a copy of the newsletter - except that it had been brought to him from the Kings Castle. He asked if I could come out to visit him.

I knew that I would have to gain clearance in order to do so - so I wrote to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and received a fairly prompt reply in the affirmative.

Before I proceed further, some background information.

While growing up, the bus we rode from where we lived into downtown New Westminster passed the huge B.C. Penitentiary. As a young teenager I was fascinated with 'crime comics' and would buy them. In those publications invariably felons were depicted as very ugly men - however, often when I passed the prison on the bus, 'trustees' were outside taking care of the manicured grounds. They were ordinary looking men and not ugly at all. Ergo - prisoners were not necessarily physically gross.

In the latter part of the 19th Century many immigrants arrived in Canada from Eastern Europe. Among them were members of a small religious sect called  Sons of Freedom' (or 'Doukhobors') who would protest situations by parading around while nude and/or setting fires to buildings - even their own homes. After World War II their protests increased in number so there was a crackdown.

Due to the nature of these people they could not be placed with the regular prison population so a separate institution was built to house them. This came to be called Agassiz Mountain Prison and, later, when the original need abated, it became a prison for sex offenders.

Greater Vancouver was growing and expanding including New Westminster so, as the B.C. Pen occupied valuable real estate, it was closed in favor of a large housing development. Before it closed, another large prison - known as 'Kent' - was erected about half a mile from where the Doukhobors had been kept.

On my first visit out there I went to the wrong institution and had to be redirected!

The man whom I went to see - and on a number of occasions - was middle-aged and had a record as a pedophile. That type of activity is abhorrent to me but he was a human being and he needed spiritual care from somebody who would not issue judgments - just listen and talk.

It was interesting being in that large room usually almost full of people visiting others. There were young people and old people and others who were in between. I am a 'people watcher' so I kept my eyes on what others were doing and witnessed activities which the guards would not have approved of if they had seen them.

Jack - as I will call the prisoner - was from Manitoba and had been incarcerated elsewhere for the same crime. Therefore, when he asked me if I would sponsor him for a weekend pass to come visit me in Vancouver, I thought of the paper boy who lived next door and declined!

He had a sister and brother-in-law who lived in North Vancouver. His sister did come to visit him but his brother-in-law flatly refused to do so.

A few months after I had begun visiting him there was an 'Open House' at the prison so I brought a friend with me who was a member of the church and a strong-willed person but who was curious to see the inside of a penal institution.

Eventually, this prisoner was transferred to a prison back east and our contact was severed.

However, he was the first of a series of prisoners who were in touch asking for visits. Also a grapevine seemed to be in operation and prison personnel would contact me when a new prisoner was determined to be gay. The following are notes about a few of those.

Two lads were incarcerated in minimum security camps which were well back in the woods miles from the highway. One was near Harrison Mills (about ten miles west of Agassiz) and the other at Alouette Lake northeast of Coquitlam. Both of these young men were sentenced because of theft. One was identity theft and the other stole some material items.

The one charged with identity theft had a Parole Hearing at the 'work camp' and I was asked to attend. I was surprised and shocked by what I witnessed - downright rudeness by one of the interviewers towards the prisoner.

Another who was charged with theft was Kelly. I do not remember what he had stolen but he was chased by the Vancouver Police to Granville Island. When the police closed in he jumped into False Creek and tried to swim to the other side - only to be pulled out of the water by officers in the police boat.

He was sentenced to the medium security prison at Matsqui near Abbotsford. Our go-between contact was the Anglican chaplain of the prison. Usually he was in his office when I arrived and would accompany me to where Kelly would be playing the piano in the chapel. One time, however, the Padre had to be elsewhere so Kelly took me on a tour of the facility showing me the shops, his cell, the exercise yard and so on. When the Padre heard about that escapade he was horrified - the caper put me at risk. If one of those prisoners wanted to get out - or thought of a 'blackmail' scheme, - I would have been, in all likelihood, the hostage.

Kelly was released soon after that and, thanks to friends from away, was whisked out of the area.

There is one more prisoner whom I want to mention.

This fellow was a French-Canadian who had come from Montreal to Vancouver and met a man who had a dangerous fetish - blood sports - and who loved to take drugs. One evening the two of them became stoned, a knife was produced and the 'guest' was to nick the other so that there was blood. Being as stoned as they were, the knife slipped, punctured a vital organ, and the host died. The other was charged with murder.

By this time it was known that I 'pastored' to LGBT folk when they were in trouble and needed spiritual advice so I was called by one of the male nurses at the Vancouver Detention Center. I agreed to go visit the prisoner.

The Vancouver Police Department had a new Headquarters and the cells in there were state of the art. However, to go in to see a prisoner, was daunting. I had to wait for a loud buzzer to sound and a door opened. I walked forward into an anteroom, the door behind me CLANGED shut, a moment later another buzzer sounded and another door opened in front of me closing after me with the same CLANG.

I was in there to see him more than once and, one time, I waited in the anteroom with one of Vancouver's 'characters' - Harry Rankin. Harry was well known for his adversarial work on behalf of the underprivileged and as a 'left-wing' City Counselor. It was a pleasure to meet and to chat with him.

The fellow accused of second degree murder was found guilty - I was in the courtroom - and was sentenced back to prison. He asked to be sent to Archambault Prison near Montreal. I never saw him again.

One evening I went to the Shaggy Horse and was accosted by a couple of young men who were friends of the murder victim. They berated me for daring to visit and to befriend his killer. I reminded them who I was and what I did to earn my living. They did not accost me again.

April 27, 2015-------An addenda

Two weeks ago one of those 'prisoners' was in touch by email and then in person. He, his current boy  friend and another friend visited Toronto and he let me know so we visited. It is now more than 30 years since we met so - instead of a teenager -  he is now a mature man - but still full of braggadocio. As I expected, his current partner is a young man. Also, they were accompanied by another gay friend.

During the evening before they left to return to their homes we sat together on the patio of one of Toronto's gay bar/restaurants. Yes - he is the same 'kid' whom I befriended all those years ago and it was great for us to be able to reconnect. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Back in the Pulpit

I liked my work at Gordon Fabrics but I was trained to be a minister in a congregation. The Rev Bob Wolfe was a well liked Pastor but his health was not the best so he decided to return to the US. The Rev. David Gunton from Ontario was 'called' to replace him and he ministered to us for a couple of years - and then he left to go to Tucson.

Some of the congregants - and especially some of the women (knowing my background) - asked me to apply for the vacant position. I did - and was accepted. The UFMCC (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches) held a General Conference every two years and, in 1981, the church in Houston, Texas was the host. I attended and my 'Call' was ratified.

The General Conference lasted for a week commencing on Monday and finishing with the Service on the following Sunday and, at that service, the new Elders and we new clergy were commissioned.

Getting to Houston was interesting. The Conference was at the end of July and, on the Thursday of the week before, was the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and The Lady Dianna. Also, on the weekend following the Royal Wedding, was the 'Gay Rodeo' in Reno, Nevada. As some of my Vancouver buddies were going there I included that event in my itinerary.

I flew from Vancouver to Reno on United Airlines. In those days it was United that gave passengers a 'scenic tour' on their way to a destination. As this was three months after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the pilot of our aircraft flew south on the east side of the Coast Mountains and, when we arrived in the vicinity of the mountain, he dipped to the right so we could see the blasted crater and the peripheral damage. That was an ugly sight.

We were billeted by members of the Reno based 'Leather/Levi' Club and my hosts were two delightful men. I was amused by the first words out of the mouth of one of them - "Did you watch the Royal Wedding?" I had seen the beginning of the pomp and ceremony, went to bed, and then watched the conclusion after I got up the next morning. My hosts had remained up all night to watch while I - a subject of their majesties - had gone to sleep!

The rodeo was amateurish but fun - and I did meet some neat guys in the stands and around the grounds afterwards. On the following day I flew from Reno to Dallas and then a brief hop on to Houston.

I do not remember too much about that Conference. However, we Vancouverites were billeted in a nurses residence a couple of blocks from a shopping area. In the evening we would walk over to the local IHOP for a bite to eat. This was in August, the weather was hot and humid and, on the walk along the sidewalks, I saw some cockroaches that made the ones that I saw while I was in Brisbane seem like pygmies!

When the Conference ended I flew back to Vancouver via the now defunct Frontier Airlines. This was the first day of a US Air Traffic Controller strike. While the weather was OK, there were big billowy clouds in the sky. At one point we flew into a clear area and, down below us and, flying diagonally to our path, was another aircraft! That gave me pause although, in all likelihood, both pilots were in communication with each other.

My being the Pastor of MCC-Vancouver made me a 'dignitary' in the local Gay Community and there were 'perks'. Already the 'Royal Court' was well established and, copying the drag community in San Francisco, there was an annual Coronation Ball which I was obligated to attend. It was held on one evening each spring in a ballroom upstairs above some shops on Granville Street. The whereabouts of the Ball was well known so each of us had to 'run the gauntlet' of jeering 'macho males' while on our way in. I never experienced any physically negative actions though.

Because of my position in the community I had to make an 'Entrance'. I stood at the edge of the crowd on the opposite side to the stage until my name (and position in the community) were called, then I had to walk across that 'sprung' dance floor in the blinding glare of the spotlights to the stage, up the steps and then salute the 'retiring monarchs'.

Each of those balls had a 'theme' and, one year, it was 'Royalty'. At intermission I was trying to cross the hall in the area in front of the biggest bar. Suddenly I heard a booming male voice yell, "Get off of my train". It was the butch 'Empress of Seattle' dressed as Marie Antoinette - her train was yards long and she/he had no one assigned to hold it up.

Cleopatra was there too - as was Evita Peron!

There was a source of tension between the 'Drag community' and we of the leather/levi group - the former always expected that we of the latter would build the backdrops needed for the Ball. They were refused each time.

There were other aspects of my pastorate that I will discuss in following blogs.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Vacuum Cleaners and Telephone Books

When I arrived back in the Vancouver area I was badly shaken and feeling bruised. My Mom, brother Dan, neighbors and friends all welcomed me but I felt so ashamed. However, there were four friends who stood beside me and gave me both moral and spiritual support.

The Rev. Gordon Taylor had left St Andrews United in Prince George and had become Pastor of South Hill United Church in Vancouver. He - a very heterosexual man - embraced me and gave me a number of suggestions as to whom to call and what to do. There was no judgment at all.

Bob Ross was an older gay man whom I met while strolling in Stanley Park. He was retired and a recovering alcoholic - through him I met a number of men who were also recovering alcoholics. While I am not an alcoholic - I rarely drink - they embraced me warmly and made sure that I was included in dinner parties and the like.

The Rev. John Palmer - whom I had met at Union College where we became friends - was serving as the Assistant at Ryerson United Church in the Kerrisdale district of Vancouver. If I didn't go to worship at South Hill, I went to Ryerson. Often both Gord and John invited me to assume minor roles in the Sunday services.

The fourth person was, I would say, the biggest help of all.

Before I mention him in particular, I will return to when I was a resident in Union College at UBC. One day I went into the Common Room and, among the papers and magazines laid out on coffee tables, was a copy of 'The Advocate'. This paper is published in San Francisco and is/was the special source of news for the LGBT community in the US and elsewhere.

In that issue was an article about a new church and denomination - UFMCC (The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches). The first - "Mother Church" - was in Los Angeles and was pastored by the Rev. Troy Perry. That article intrigued me but I never dreamed of the impact that it would have upon my life.

A couple of years after the formation of UFMCC, the Rev. Bob Wolfe felt led to come to Toronto to look to the spiritual needs of LGBT folk here. He founded the church in Toronto and was the pastor for a few years. As there were others in the wings who were capable of taking over, he decided to go to Vancouver to found another congregation.

I should add here an anecdote from Bob's ministry in Toronto that was related to me after I had returned to Vancouver. An illness had left Bob lame - he walked with a noticeable limp. An ice storm had descended upon Toronto which made going anywhere somewhat treacherous. A young gay man who was tired of trying to fight who he was decided to commit suicide and made his way to the roof of City Hall from where he threatened to jump. The authorities had heard of the Rev. Bob Wolfe and that his pastorate was the Toronto LGBT Community so they telephoned him. Bob arrived, made his way up to that very icy roof and talked the young man down.   

At first I kept my distance but soon became involved myself and began my own healing process. The first services were held in the apartment rented by Bob and his partner, Larry. Soon, though, the Sunday evening gathering had grown large enough to create a need for another space and the church moved to the Scottish Auditorium which was a three story older building at  the corner of West 16th Avenue and Burrard Street.

There were many small organizations that rented space there and, while MCC Vancouver was holding worship in the auditorium on the third floor, a Hare Krishna group rented the room directly underneath. This created an interesting mixture (cacophony?) of hymns and East Indian chants!. The church flourished for a number of years.

The pay out that I had received from Westboro United Church soon began to run out so I had to look for other employment - especially something that would generate income fairly quickly.

Through agencies I found three different jobs.

The first was conducting surveys for a polling company on behalf of the French language CBC. I had to canvas streets in the older part of Maillardville (Coquitlam) seeking French speaking folk who watched CBFT (the French television network). I was assigned to a particular area and a particular number of homes looking for French speakers. They weren't there - they had prospered enough to move to the newer subdivisions and were replaced by folk of other ethnicities who did not speak French. At least I was paid for calling at the prescribed number of homes even without garnering the requisite number of statistics.

A vacuum cleaner company advertised for sales persons so I tried that. Now, 40 years later, I cannot remember the trade name of those machines - but I know that I am not a good salesman! I believe that I sold one vacuum cleaner - maybe two - but no more. The areas to which I was assigned were all over suburban Vancouver. It was very discouraging.

The next job was more enjoyable - delivering telephone directories to homes and to small businesses. While I never delivered to homes in the North Shore I was everywhere else in the metropolitan area.

This was strenuous work (I placed bundles of directories in the back of my Ford Maverick and drove to the area where I was assigned to deliver) but it was good exercise, decent money and I did not have to knock on doors and try to sell something that the residents did not want.

Excitement? Yes - I was bitten by two dogs and chased by a gaggle of geese. So help me, those geese worried me more than the dogs did!

Two directory drops were particularly memorable. One of them was to a bare yard in front of a mean dwelling. I did not notice that there was a dog sleeping in the yard - it was a pit bull! He did not wake up as I tiptoed by and back again. The second was to the home of Michael J. Fox's parents in Burnaby. I don't think that anybody was home - least of all the TV star.

Eventualy there was an advertisement in the 'Help Wanted' section of the Vancouver Sun - a fabric wholesale company needed an experienced bookkeeper. As it so happened, the Office manager and the family which owned the business were all faithful United Church folk so that went a long way in my being hired.

I worked there for four years.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Long Road Home

In the blog preceding this one, I mentioned being back in Ottawa in order to pack and to tie up loose ends of business.

I felt very chagrined and, Yes!, my tail was between my legs. Therefore I was overwhelmed by the love and care and regrets lavished upon me by so many others. For instance, one of the active church members lived just over the fence from me. I felt so ashamed by what had happened - what I had permitted to happen - that I tiptoed around so I wouldn't be seen nor heard.

Mary ended that by telephoning me and 'ordering' me to drop over for a cup of tea. While we were next door neighbors her husband had become gravely ill, had died and I had visited him/them during those awful days. I assisted at his funeral too. She wanted to thank me personally for my help to her and her sons while coping with their loss. I was very touched.

I was still naive enough to believe that most people abhorred homosexuals which, of course, was not - is not - the case. One of the young married couples invited me over for dinner. Cheryl - the wife - told me that she had known from when we had first met that I was Gay and she and her husband were completely accepting of who I was.

Also, I was contacted by other United Churchmen who commiserated with me and offered whatever help - spiritual and physical - that they could give.

While there I was assisted in a huge way by a friend, Don, and his partner, Gilles. It was with them that I stayed while I was packing - and Don was a huge help in the latter. Also they - and others - shielded me from contact with Wayne who, due to his mental illness, was still a major problem.

While I was in Ottawa the weather became very snowy which made packing and moving about quite awkward. Still, I managed to get in a couple of days in Montreal where I saw the nuns and Trenton where I saw the Mostyns and, back in Ottawa, I was able to visit and say goodby to Aunt Bea and Uncle Edgar.

On January 23rd I drove down to St. Catherines where the Rev Merv Skey, his wife and family were then located (they were close friends of mine while I was on Bell Island and they in Topsail, Newfoundland). Merv was quite involved in the Charismatic Movement and was a close friend of the Rev. Bernie Warren who had a retreat center ("Bezek") near Campbellville, Ontario. I had reserved a space at the Center and was expected. While at Bezek, Bernie laid hands on my head and prayed saying, "Lord, please make this bent stream straight!" I thought that was odd phraseology and, under the circumstances, rather an amusing use of words.

While I was at Bezek a major blizzard developed and everything was buried in snow. I was going to leave to travel through Niagara Falls to Buffalo and then south. As the Niagara area was literally buried by the white stuff, I had to go through Windsor and Detroit and then south along Interstate 75. As it was, I had a dicey time navigating around snow drifts at cloverleafs along the freeway in Ontario.

For some reason I left the 401 Freeway in Windsor and got turned around trying to get back on that route and over the Ambassador Bridge. U.S. Customs was a breeze - it was so cold that the guard just waved me through! Then in Detroit I became confused again and wandered around some suburban streets until I relocated the way onto US 75. Soon I had driven through Toledo, Ohio and arrived at Perrysburg where I saw a sign for a Holiday Inn. I pulled off of the highway and booked a room.

That area had been hit hard by the blizzard so the hotel was short-staffed and I had to make up my own bed in order to sleep. When I pulled in I really needed to use the bathroom so I asked the Desk Clerk where the washroom was? The lad paused and then called to a woman a few feet from where he was standing, "Do we have a laundromat?" Quickly I corrected him - I wanted a bathroom, I did not want to wash clothes! While checking in I heard as well that the exit I took to reach the hotel was the last one still open from the southbound side of the highway - the others were blocked by snow drifts.

The following morning I learned that the highway was open - sort of - for traffic so I continued on. Already I had heard that the town of Frankford and environs had been dumped on by the blizzard. When I arrived at that spot I had to drive slowly along two car tracks between two lines of vehicles which were still snowbound.

I kept on going - but not at a fast speed - to Cincinnati, across the Ohio River on a bridge, and then southwest on 71 to Louisville, Kentucky and then south on 65 to Nashville, Tennessee. Years later I had a friend who loved Country and Western music. I told him that I had stayed overnight in Nashville but had not gone to the "Grand Ole Oprey". He was astonished.

Driving south out of Nashville on the following morning I soon left the last of the snow behind - temporarily, that is. I crossed the Mississippi at Memphis and then drove southwest through Arkansas (never dreaming that that state would figure prominently in my life years later).

That evening I was in Texarkana on the Arkansas/Texas border - and more snow. That area rarely sees snow but a storm had come from the Atlantic through Birmingham, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Texarkana. There was not that much snow on the roads but the parking lot of the motel - into which I booked - was very icy due to the snow that had fallen, melted in part and then become frozen.

The following morning I drove on south to the agricultural center of Nacogdoches (loving geography I had longed to visit the town with such an unusual name) and then on to Houston.

Back in Ottawa, Dan Matheson and I had become involved in the setup of the Agnes Sanford School of Pastoral Care (Mrs Sanford was the wife of a Methodist minister from Boston who firmly believed that the 'healing' mentioned in the Book of Acts was still available to believers - if they knew how to ask and to accept the gifts). At the retreat that was held near Ottawa I bonded with one of the leaders who was from Houston so it was to visit him that led me to that city.

Never having been there before I had no idea where to go in order to find what I was looking for. I booked into the Ramada Inn on the north side of the downtown area and then learned that where I wanted to visit was located well to the south so I set out to walk there. When it was time to return to the hotel I walked back - only this was after rush hour and the streets were absolutely deserted. Kind of spooky - but I made it back all in one piece.

The following morning I went to the address that I had hoping to see the man for whom I was looking. He was not there but had gone up to northern New York State! However, some of the people whom I met at that office invited me to their home where I remained for a couple of days.

At that time the Houston Astrodome was the only covered stadium on the North American continent. I was curious so I drove over there and took a tour. Now there are many other 'domes' on this continent - including Skydome/Rogers Center here in Toronto.

I was curious about the border town of Del Rio so, when I left Houston, I drove down there passing through picturesque San Antonio while on my way.

Dad was a huge fan of the writings of the author, Zane Grey. One of his novels was titled "West of the Pecos" so, since that river flows into the Rio Grande not far from Del Rio, I drove there. Those readers who have been to Texas know that the northern part of the State is quite flat but the southern part - bordering on the Rio Grande - is rugged terrain. After an overnight stay in the small town of Sanderson I drove up through Alpine (it is really situated in a small mountain range) and to Route I-10 a number of miles southeast of El Paso. I stopped there for lunch just so I could say that I was actually in El Paso, Texas.

Although one crosses the Continental Divide in New Mexico, the scenery seen from the interstate routes is mostly flat and uninteresting but quickly changes to rugged beauty once over the border into Arizona. My next overnight stay was in Tucson.

Already I had planned to leave I-10 so, between Tucson and Phoenix, I left it for I-8 which took me to San Diego. At the junction of the two interstate highways I found a hitchhiker and picked him up. After doing some odd jobs around Tucson he was going home to Yuma. My brother-in-law, Hubert, (while he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force) had been stationed in Yuma during at least two summers when Canadian fighter jets were being tested for their operational ability in desert heat during summer months (they were tested for cold temperatures in Cold Lake, Alberta during winter months).

The hitchhiker invited me to his home in Yuma for lunch and there I met his sister's fiance - a US Marine who was serving in the air wing. That was a pleasant lunch and a great visit with some very hospitable people.

After lunch it was back on the highway, across the Colorado River, the Imperial Valley (which is a very beautiful farming region) and up over the mountain range that separates that fertile area from the Pacific Ocean. During the climb up over the mountains from the Imperial Valley I overtook another car displaying Ontario license plates which I was surprised to notice.

The Interstate brought me into the city on the north side of town and there was a 'Motel Strip' on the service road so finding accommodation was not difficult.

Zoos are an amusement place which I enjoy thoroughly so I went there. While the actual zoological gardens are not as large as I had expected, the variety in the collection of specimens was impressive. The gay bar which had been recommended to me was very close to the gate to the Naval Base so, in a sense, I had a glimpse of that institution as well.

Thanks to some local people, I was directed to the old mission church of San Diego de Alcala. Loving history I found it great so see where the settlement of that area of California began.

Interstates - freeways - are a fast way to get from Point A to Point B but, in my books, the scenery found along the old original routes are both more interesting and more beautiful,. Therefore I opted to drive north along the original highway not counting upon the Camp Pendleton Army Base being in the way. To get around that I had to return to I-5 and drive north to San Clemente where I was able to return to my original choice of route.

That took me through the famed ocean side communities all the way to Los Angeles where I turned up a route through Beverley Hills to Reseda and to the office of the Covenant Players. I was warmly received by those folk and remained with them (attending to a menial task in the office) for a day and two nights.

Back on the highway I drove north on California 1 which has to be one of the most scenic routes in the US. This took me through Santa Barbara, San Juan Capistrano and San Simeon (which is the site of the 'Hearst Castle'). The highway is/was a two lane route which went up and down and back and forth and, for most of the way, the Pacific surf was just to my left. At the north end the highway turns east through Carmel and on to Monterrey. From there I returned to US Highway 101 and on to San Francisco.

While I have now been to that city - one of my favorites anywhere - many times that was my first visit. After visiting there over a weekend I turned inland to I-5 and drove on home.

My birthday is February 17 and I was home in time to enjoy Mom's home made birthday cake (chocolate of course!).

Friday, 2 December 2011

Gathering Storm Clouds

This part of my story is quite distressing for me and I have been in a quandary as to where to begin and which way to go with the yarn.

I was most certainly busy most of the time that I lived in Ottawa. As well as regular duties at Westboro United there were Presbytery and Conference meetings/gatherings to be a part of. Somehow I was elected to the Board of Stewart House - a retreat center located in the village of Pakenham some 30 miles northwest of Ottawa.

This duty meant that I had an early evening meeting in Pakenham once a month from autumn until spring. I remember, with amusement, one evening when I telephoned my regrets - an ice storm had descended upon the region and I did not fancy a drive out there on icy highways. Those who were there razzed me about that. They were the members who lived up in the hills in Lanark County, west of Pakenham. They drove over on the icy back roads so, certainly, I could have navigated the highways out from the City?

I do enjoy people so I met many - including a number who were not a part of the congregation. One of the first of these was Gary whom I had met at a function at another Ottawa church. He was looking for a place in which to live so I invited him to share my roomy house with me. Thereby I met a close friend of his, Roland, as well as Gary's fiancee - Lynn - and her elderly aunt. Roland also lived at my house while Lynn was often there for meals.

One weekend Lynn invited us all to visit her parents who lived out in Almonte (for you basketball fans, Almonte was the hometown of James Naismith who invented basketball - after he had moved to Boston to teach). We had been there for lunch and then decided that we would go for a drive through Lanark in order to see an unusual rock formation in a local quarry. Instead of taking the highway we opted for a scenic drive through the back roads which, because of the terrain, were not straight.

At one point some of us noticed a cloud of dust in the direction where the road we were on would be turning. Sure enough another car came flying around the corner. brakes were applied, and we were hit head on. The car was a mess but none of us were hurt beyond being shaken up.

What happened next absolutely astounded me. The lad driving the other car jumped out of the wreck, unhurt, and began apologizing only to be interrupted by some young men from a third car that was behind the one that hit us. They began punching the boy who had hit us - NOT because of the accident, but because he had taken the auto without permission. They were speaking a form of English but with a strong Scottish accent and this was my introduction to Canadian "hillbillies". Their ancestors were originally from Scotland but had lived in that marginal farming area of the Lanark Hills for generations.

Both cars were badly damaged but none of us were hurt.

There were others who lived at the manse - as well as the Covenant Players who were in the house during their visits to Ottawa. Most were good friends and 'housemates' but there was one who generated a fair bit of trouble. It turned out that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and was the catalyst for the events that ended with me being told to leave.

While he was there he did travel with me (to Montreal as well as to Vancouver) causing me a number of anxious moments. During the final horrible week in Ottawa, his mother invited me out to lunch - to thank me for giving her son the longest period of 'relative stability' that he had had in quite some time.

While I was in Ottawa, my Aunts Marie-Anne and Cecile retired from active work as nuns. Just prior to that they were honored by the Order on the 50th Anniversary of their Profession of Vows. In the eyes of those two ladies - while I was not a Roman Catholic - I was the 'Priest of the family' so my presence at the Renewal of Vows ceremony was commanded. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to sit in the choir loft in the chapel with the other priests. Thereby I was an observer of the ceremony - but not a participant.

Wayne Purdy, ma tante Sister Cecile Lacasse, me and Cecile's twin, Sister Marie Anne Lacasse following the service honoring 50 years of my aunts' vows. 

Wayne's mental instability spun way out of control and I found myself desperately trying to warn other people that he was 'out to get them'. It all ended on one weekday in December 1976 when I was called into Dr Matheson's office where I was discharged from my duties. I was given an airline ticket back to Vancouver and was told to leave ASAP.

I flew home wondering what I would tell Mom, Dan, sisters and friends. They all welcomed me and did not ask any questions - just waited for me to be ready to talk. While I was staying with Mom and Dan I received a telephone call to tell me that a member of the congregation (a policeman who served on the Morality Squad) had proof that I was indeed a homosexual.

I did fly back immediately after New Year, stayed with friends who lived in Hull, Quebec; and with their assistance we quietly packed everything. An agent of one of the national moving companies was a strong United Churchman and he agreed to look after the moving of my 'stuff' back to B.C. As soon as I was settled, I informed him of my new address and my belongings soon arrived.

During that visit Dr. Matheson took me out to lunch where - in the course of the conversation - he told me that I was never to return to Ottawa again! That threw me - how could I (who was not a felon) be barred from visiting a city?

Fast forward to Remembrance Day Weekend, 2000. I had been living in Toronto for 11 years and a friend and his partner were being sent to Ottawa to attend a special event. They offered to take me with them so I asked them to remember to pack their suits as we would be going to church on Sunday morning.

We drove up to Ottawa on the Friday for the event scheduled for Saturday evening. Saturday was the 11th of November so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Remembrance Ceremony which was very well attended and, also, very moving. The other two went off on their own while I caught a bus out to Westminster Avenue. I walked past what was once my 'home' and then past the church and then where the Mathesons lived. While passing the church I looked at the sign board out front noting the time of the Sunday Service - only one while there had been two when I was there.

As it so happened, the boys had forgotten their suits so were dressed in denim and leather jackets but we went to church anyway. It was Remembrance Sunday but the church was only one-half to two-thirds full. We sat in a pew near the back with me the furthest in from the aisle. At the end of the service there was the usual Recessional of the choir. As that was finishing I felt somebody pat me on my back.

I turned and saw three or four older people two rows back. They looked familiar but I could not put names to them. One of the women said, "Ernie! Is that you? Where did you go to, what happened"? Nobody had said anything to the congregation when I had disappeared.

The minister had finished shaking hands with departing congregants so came over to find out who the two fellows in jeans and leather were. I pushed in front of them - I was wearing my suit - and said, "I am Ernie Lacasse!" He jumped as if he had received an electric shock. Then he told me that I had left a 'preaching robe' behind (which I do not believe that I did) and that he would give it to me as soon as he had finished with the lingering congregants.

My buddies were smokers so they went outside for a cigarette while I made my way to the 'Ladies Parlor' for the Coffee Hour. As I was pouring my coffee I saw Major Hauser, a Korean War Vet, and spoke to him. When he recognized me he too jumped.

He had suffered injuries in Korea and, by that time, he was fairly crippled and apologized that he had to find a chair quickly. He too asked me what had happened at the end of 1976? Just then my friends returned so I introduced them to Rollie as the minister also approached to tell me that he was free to give me 'my robe'.

I had recognized another couple - the parents of the young woman who had gone with me to Hollywood to join the Covenant Players. They were still in the sanctuary where a new synthesizer was being demonstrated. From the minister's office I went there to greet them. Muriel - the wife - was sitting in a choir stall and, therefore, out of reach while Duncan - the husband - was standing at the front of the church. I touched him on the shoulder, he turned with a look of puzzlement so I said. "It is me, Ernie Lacasse!" Unlike with Roland and the lady in the church pew, I did not feel at all welcomed.

When the three of us left to drive back to our hotel - and brunch - I was told that Major Hauser had said he had always wondered what had happened to me as he thought that I had been a good minister!

However, I was able to slay the dragon!

Since then I have met a few openly gay United Church clergymen - as well as one who has undergone the procedure in order to change from a male body to that of a female. She had been to Westboro recently and said that the congregation had disbanded and the building sold.

Times have changed - but too late for me.