At the age when most teenagers rebelled and stopped going to church, Cheryl-Lynn MacPherson was just beginning to attend. She got involved in the choir, because the music and singing really helped connect her to her faith.
Now she’s the new supply minister for St. Mark’s United Church at 115 Orton Park Rd., replacing the previous minister who took a job in the church’s national office. She will be leading the congregation in conducting a needs assessment to determine what they need in a new minister — until the end of June, when she may apply for the job herself.
It’s a career choice she never expected to face when she was younger. During university, MacPherson moved away from her faith but eventually returned and attended a church with a female minister. Never having had a female minister before, MacPherson had her eyes opened to the possibility that she could do it too.
“From there it was an unfolding process,” says MacPherson. “In the church we use the term ‘called by God.’ It was a nudging feeling that I could do that — serve other people, hopefully help them and provide inspiration to them.”
Her family was surprised at first, but very proud and supportive. MacPherson did her training in the Presbyterian Church and transferred to the United Church which was a better fit with her ideals, because it does a lot of work on social justice issues and is inclusive of people of different backgrounds and sexual orientations.
In 1988 the decision was made by the United Church to ordain people who may be gay, lesbian or bisexual. This big moment for the United Church came with a lot of pain and division. Since then understanding has grown within the faith and the United Church has taken a national stand on supporting same-sex marriages.
In the last few years St. Mark’s itself has gone through an affirming process facilitated by Affirm United, which is an organization of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities who work to provide the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the church and society. They take time with congregations to study what, if anything, the bible says about sexual orientation.
MacPherson explains the united faith is part of the reform tradition of Christianity and so has its roots in the old Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist traditions. Formed in 1925, the United Church is unique to Canada in that the three denominations on which it is based came together in the hope of forming a church that would be a leader among the protestant population.
“The United Church is a wide umbrella theologically, but it is a mainline liberal tradition that follows the teachings of Jesus,” says MacPherson. “We try to walk the talk and that has implications on the way we live our lives.”
MacPherson attended three years of theological college and then served a one-year internship before receiving her Masters of Divinity. She was ordained in 2006 and her first pastoral charge was Camilla-Laurel-Monocenter, between Orangeville and Shelburne, Ontario. This was a group of three churches so small that each one alone could not afford a full-time minister, so they pooled together and shared one minister among the three congregations.