Church members show support for pastor on trial

By Jesse Mclean
Toronto Star
November 20, 2016

Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes arrives at provincial court in Kentville, N.S. earlier this month. The well-known Toronto pastor is facing charges related to decades-old sex-crime allegations.
Photo by Darren Calabrese

The pews of Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church brimmed with silent support Sunday for its embattled pastor, currently on trial for the alleged sexual assault of a teenage boy in the 1970s.

More than a hundred people attended the morning masses at the Riverdale church, during which there was only a fleeting direct mention of Rev. Brent Hawkes’ trial, reminding congregants of the church’s listening groups if anyone felt the need to talk.

But after the service, those in attendance emphasized that their longtime pastor is in their prayers.

Rev. Deana Dudley said the church is handling the matter “the same way we deal with anything.

“We offer support, we offer prayer, we offer love, we offer acceptance,” she said.

“I know some people have been upset by what’s going on, so then we just do more of the same — we offer more love, more acceptance, more support, more prayer.”

Hawkes, who performed the country’s first same-sex marriage ceremonies, is the “cornerstone” of inclusivity and unconditional love that the church is known for, said congregant Ian Campbell.

Campbell, like many of his fellow churchgoers, has been following the pastor’s trial.

“It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved. Going through a trial never leaves anyone, no matter who they are, unchanged,” he said.

Earlier this week, a man testified that Hawkes, then a teacher in Nova Scotia, forced oral sex on him during a drunken get-together at Hawkes’ trailer.

Hawkes, who has pleaded not guilty, testified that the sex act never happened.

As the judge-alone trial continues, so does the church’s search for a new senior pastor. The church has said the hiring is consistent with Hawkes’ planned retirement “at a point following his 40th anniversary as our pastor.”

On Sunday morning, Rev. Sandra Morris gave words of encouragement to a congregation which, already missing Hawkes, was also mourning the recent death of a popular deacon.

“Some of us are scared and empty and we are running on fumes,” Morris said. “I want you to keep filling each other up with as much kindness and goodness and generosity as you can. How about we remind each other that we’re here for each other?”

She added, “Because it can get really cold out there and it can get really bitter, and God knows we can all use some warmth.”



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