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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

Thursday, May 30, 3 p.m.
Oration honouring Right Rev. Marion Pardy

It is said that the dignity of Gower St. United Church is so great that only God qualifies to be called to its pulpit. If that is true then we finally have definitive proof that God is a woman for it was in 1990 that the Gower St. congregation chose Marion Pardy as their minister, in 2000 that the United Church of Canada chose her as their Moderator. While women had served the United Church for a long time; Gower St. had been a male preserve forever. So it was with some questioning that this venture was embarked upon. As the prophet has said, it is with tears that we come into this world, and it is with tears that we leave it. Let us take this as a text for the career of Marion Pardy.

Now, Mr. Chancellor, you will understand that parting the doors of Gower St. United Church is a bit like parting the Red Sea: the Promised Land is up ahead but you do have to walk between the towering waves and your adversaries may be racing behind you. When Marion Pardy broached the doors of this, the most established United Church in Newfoundland, she was embarking upon what could have been a rough voyage. Why would a search committee recommend such a marked departure from former practice? That committee had no thought of recommending a woman, no equity agenda and had never met the candidate before. But they were so struck by her personality — a most contradictory blend of strong will and gentleness — that she was the person they chose to present to the congregation. And while she was made minister it was not without some mutterings of dissent. The irony is that those who lamented her coming were those who most lamented her going because she had built such a strong following. Her clear sense of purpose for her ministry was allied to an equal capacity to work with people to achieve that purpose.

Church activities – Mission Band, Explorers and the Young People’s Union – led her to investigate deepening such connections after high school by taking a course at the Tatamagouche Christian Training Centre. This helped her focus her goal — she would become a deaconess — and, in the manner that we now know to be characteristic, she pursued it with determination. After all this is the child who told she could borrow three books a week from the Gander library, borrowed and read three books a week all through her school years. Knowing that she would have to complete Ontario Grade XIII to qualify for her studies at Covenant College, she moved to Belleville and took a secretarial job doing her upgrading at night. And so she would complete her BA, her BA (Hons.), her MA and her doctor of ministry — all accomplished while doing her day job of serving the church in Ontario and Manitoba in congregational and in administrative roles. This path — common now, exceptional then — was not taken at the cost of her academic performance — her MA from York won the thesis award for that year and it, like her doctoral thesis, was later published.

Her role as moderator is threefold: to represent the church internationally, nationally and congregationally; to serve as a spiritual leader; to work with the United Church conference, its committees and congregations. At a time when all religious groups are under attack for abuse or neglect and torn by controversy, a church needs a very particular type of leader: one who can see the future and prepare its path without imposing the direction; one who believes firmly in moral and religious positions while being receptive to the views of others; one who will enspirit a congregation or committee without dominating it. And it was these qualities that made Marion Pardy the national choice of the General Council — as unlikely a candidate for Moderator as she was for minister of Gower St. It is appropriate then that we recognize her not just for her high office, which brings pride to us all, but for her person, a matter of greater pride in that she is of us, we are all of her congregation. I present to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of laws (honoris causa), that pastor for all persons, Marion Pardy.

Shane O’Dea
Public Orator