In 2003, I was the minister of a congregation in southwestern Ontario. I recall often being out in the town and enjoying meeting new people. One day when I was out walking through one of the parks I met Rick working in one of the flower beds. He loved contributing to the community by making those parks look beautiful. I soon learned that some viewed Rick as a town “character” with a “different orientation”.

Shortly after this I became aware that we had a common daily routine, going to Tim Horton’s for coffee in the afternoon. When I arrived I’d usually find him sitting by himself. He was pleased when I chose to sit with him. We ended up having very interesting discussions on the issue of same sex marriage. This topic was very much on my mind for our Session was actively corresponding with the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan seeking to influence the Government not to legalize same sex marriages. We were invited to make our presentation in Toronto to the Commission charged with collecting public input on the issue. I shared with Rick some of the details of that experience and substance of our presentation. He was of the persuasion that it would be approved whether by an act of Parliament, through the Courts or both. He was right. The Ontario Appeal Court ruled in a case before it that made our present family law on this issue void and also this Commission. I was so upset having put hours of work that was required even to meet the requirements to be invited to do a presentation. Rick heard me out.

The subject of our conversations were not just this issue but became in time quite personal and pastoral in substance. Rick shared some of the stories associated with his “rough days”. This gave me a greater understanding of himself and the challenges that faced him today. One of those challenges was depression. I recall going to visit him in one of those times of crisis.

Periodically I would see Rick at church. The Sunday I announced my need for an early retirement I believe he was there. The next week when I saw him he moved me with his words, “Ken, you are the best minister that I have ever met.”

His positive words were greatly appreciated at that time .I realized we had developed a mutual respect and understanding of one another.

When I returned from making our presentation to the Commission, the regional newspaper published an interview they had with me. The negative feedback I got from some people was disturbing. Their anger appeared to be engendered by unfounded assumptions that I was judgemental, harsh, and homophobic.

Some people in the public and maybe the church certainly make wrong assumptions on those who take a conservative stance on issues related to human sexuality.

I feel I can hold a “conservative” theological position on sexual orientation and other human sexuality issues and at the same time be a compassionate minister to all.

Kenneth Oakes