Dawn Dickieson, who will be ordained later this year, graduated Saturday from the Atlantic School of Theology. (Eric Wynne / Staff)
Ummm, this wasn’t the title I was expecting in the Sunday Herald on Sunday morning when I agreed to be interviewed for this piece for AST. Still, the article turned out very well. When I went to preach in Tangier later that morning, I received very positive comments and have received more from here, PEI, NB and even Ireland (no, not Marc, although he liked it too).
I was glad to do this for AST. They told me my research got us out of the Living section and on to page 3 of the front section, so yeah for AST!
By RICK CONRAD Staff Reporter
Yes, Dawn Dickieson believes that God created gay people.
Yes, she believes a gay relationship is just as valid and sacred as anyone else’s.
And yes, she is going to be an Anglican priest.
The 31-year-old, originally from the small town of Souris, P.E.I., will be officially ordained later this year. Today, she’s one of a couple of dozen freshly minted master of divinity graduates from the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax.
Twenty-three students got their divinity degrees at ceremonies Saturday from the tiny south-end school. Another student was awarded a master of theological studies degree, while three others received their graduate certificates in theological studies and four others their adult education certificates in theological studies.
When Ms. Dickieson, rosy-cheeked with an easy laugh, gets assigned to her own church, she wants to make it a welcoming place for everyone, including gays, lesbians and their families.
“You need to know that wherever you go is going to be safe,” says Ms. Dickieson, who is straight, but whose older brother came out when she was 16.
“And you’re not going to go to someone who’s going to say, ‘You need to exorcise this demon out of your child’ or ‘If you continue to support your child, we’re going to throw you out of the church.’ But people still want to deal with it on a spiritual level, because if God created (their) child this way (they) need to know what to do with that.”
The topic was so important to her that she made it the focus of her graduate research project this year, including interviews with three couples, two moms and six teenagers about their family’s coming-out experiences.
“It feels like sometimes we’re talking a lot about people and not talking a lot to people. I just wanted to be able to make that contact with people who are gay, or whose families are gay, who are sitting in our pews every Sunday, just to say, ‘Let’s not forget that . . . there are same-sex couples who are very active in our congregations who love one another and who love us.’ ”
It’s important to keep in mind that Ms. Dickieson is no zealot. She feels the Anglican Church of Canada has been “honestly grappling” with the issue of same-sex unions.
“There’s something comforting that we’re not just going to go with what the world tells us to do. On the other hand, we’re not just going to go with what tradition’s always told us to do. We’re going to look at them and try to bring them together and determine where God is calling us to be right now.”
For Ms. Dickieson, God kept tugging her toward the pulpit. A former youth minister, she planned a career in economic development in her home province after earning her geography degree from Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que.
When that didn’t pan out, she came to Halifax for work and wanted to take a course at AST. They persuaded her to take the whole three-year degree.
“I needed a jolt to get going,” she says, laughing.
That’s exactly what she got when she spent a three-month internship in India through the Anglican Church last summer, working on HIV and AIDS awareness and education with the Church of North India.
“It was life-changing in so many ways,” she says of her time in Delhi, Calcutta and Maharashtra.
“And you come back quite angry for a time because you look at how much we have here. We just have no idea how much we have.”
She spent most of her time in the cities but also travelled to rural villages with a mobile clinic, training the nursing students and doctors about the benefits of condoms. She helped lead workshops trying to break down some of the stereotypes about HIV-positive people.
Partly because of her experiences in India and through her research with gays, lesbians and their families, she says she has a much broader view of what the church should be.
“Community for me is not about parish barbecues anymore. It’s about how vital relationship is to our being. Part of the challenge to my ministry is about building bridges and building relationships with the gay and lesbian community, with communities outside of Canada or within our own communities.
“Because that’s what Christ did; he would dismiss the people of the synagogue to spend time with people on the margins.”