Remembering a milestone

The year 2011 has been one of significance for Rev. Brent Hawkes. It was 10 years ago this past January that Hawkes performed the first-ever same-sex wedding ceremonies in Canadian history at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.

Hawkes made a mid-April stop at Centennial College’s East York campus to speak to students in the journalism program and share his experiences of the past several years, including that momentous day: Sunday, Jan. 14, 2001. That was the day that saw the marriages of Kevin Bourassa to Joe Varnell and Elaine Vautour to Anne Vautour.

Hawkes recalls the events leading up to the day vividly. Having received death threats before performing the ceremony, Hawkes was given a police security detail and instructed to wear a bulletproof vest.

“The night before the ceremonies, I called my family in New Brunswick to tell them I loved them,” Hawkes said.

When the following afternoon came, Hawkes arrived at the church with a sense of purpose and determination.

“It was a historic day, and it was exciting and terrifying,” remembered Hawkes. “So I walked into the service and the place was packed (with) overflow, and just walking in, people stood and applauded and clapped because people were so excited. We did the service and there were no disruptions of the service and at the end of the service, when I declared the couple legally married, people stood and hugged and cheered, and it was a wonderful moment.”

A decade later, at a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the marriages, Hawkes’ bulletproof vest made another appearance, but under different circumstances. Wearing the Order of Canada medal that he received in 2007, Hawkes held up his vest as a reminder of the struggle to get to that day.

“I got up and I gave a little talk and I had my bulletproof vest there,” Hawkes said. “I lifted it up and I said, ’10 years ago, this bulletproof vest was the symbol of the day.’ And I said, ‘Today, this Order of Canada is the symbol of the day.’ And see how far we’ve come in 10 years. It’s amazing.”

While acting as chairman of Pride’s Community Advisory Panel and as a member of the board of directors for ÉGALE, Hawkes still remains senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church.

He recognizes the struggle that many churches and pastors have with youth apathy, but believes that some progressive thinking can remedy some of that and get young people back into the pews.

“Many churches are answering questions that nobody is asking,” Hawkes said. “They’re singing music that’s out of date. They’re saying ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and language that people don’t recognize. The Bible talks about putting on new wineskins. Where Christianity has succeeded, it’s almost always when it’s adapted to the culture — not sacrificing its principles but adapting to the culture.”

Next year will be another milestone anniversary for Hawkes, as he’ll celebrate his 35th year at the Metropolitan Community Church.