Brenda Branswell, Montreal Gazette, June 9
Holding court yesterday near the altar where he preaches, Darryl Gray railed at the United Church hierarchy that showed him the door.
His frequent target was the spokesperson for the Montreal Presbytery of the United Church of Canada.
Gray, pastor at Union United Church, accused Fred Braman of racially insensitive comments for suggesting in a media interview that Union United, in Little Burgundy, demands “sizzle.”
“What Mr. Braman does not understand about this church is that they demand substance — and that’s what they get,” Gray said.
The Montreal presbytery announced this week it had ended Gray’s admission as a minister of the church.
It said it did so in the belief Gray would not complete the required master of divinity degree by the agreed upon — and extended — deadline. (The presbytery said the degree is a United Church requirement for ministers from another denomination.)
As a result, they said, his stint as pastor ends June 30.
Yesterday, Gray, the high-profile community leader, fired back.
Union United demands as much as any other church, Gray said.
“Why does (Braman) insult this congregation?” he asked. “Why does he limit what this congregation needs and wants? Is it because we are black — a black congregation in a black community?”
Gray said he did not think the remark reflected the United Church of Canada, but rather an attitude “that is too prevalent in the Montreal presbytery.”
He raised the race issue again during his news conference.
“You can’t turn a family’s world upside down and expect nobody to challenge it,” Gray said.
The same applies for a congregation.
“This is not a plantation. And I choose my words very carefully. I know what I’m saying. It’s not a plantation and we’re not house Negroes.”
In an interview, Braman said he was proud of the United Church’s record on race.
“It’s a church that celebrates diversity. So to pull out that card doesn’t impress anyone. Because the racism card is being played here not for Union, but for Darryl. And that’s not right.
“It’s not a black man who failed to perform what he had promised to do. It’s Darryl Gray. Because there are many black men who have been willing, able and superbly gifted to do it. And this is a person who didn’t.”
When United Church officials talk about why they ended Gray’s term as pastor, they focus on his academics. Gray suggested other reasons prompted the decision.
“This is not about my academic status. . . It is about a former American, former Baptist . . . sometimes conservative black preacher who refuses to be muzzled, restricted by anybody. It’s about personalities . . . but not just mine. It’s about the personalities of those who would continue to be gatekeepers.”
Presbytery officials didn’t think Gray showed a willingness to become a United Church minister.
“Darryl has alienated every single one of the decision-making persons in this process — anyone who has ever touched his file,” Braman said.
Gray maintained he doesn’t have a problem with obtaining the master’s degree at some point.
“I’m not academically challenged, by any stretch of the imagination.”
What he took issue with was a rigidity in the process, Gray said.
No one factored in things that happened during that time, he said. He cited personal problems and major surgery in 2003 that forced him out of the master’s program to recuperate.
“Things happen in the human experience . . . things that we don’t factor into the time frame. It’s just called human life.”
Braman responded: “We did make allowances for lots of things. There is a time when confidence and faith break.”
Asked if he bore any blame for what happened, Gray said he has made it clear he shares responsibility.
He mused that perhaps he should have taken a sabbatical from the church to pursue his studies because “being a full-time pastor in a congregation like Union is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job.”
As for the “sizzle” comment, Braman said Union United likes a charismatic preacher style that wouldn’t be received the same in other congregations.
“It was not in any way demeaning,” he said of the remark. “It was in recognition of the distinctive needs and type of congregation that it is.
“They certainly want substance. These people live their gospel day to day.”
In an unusual move, the church board meeting that discussed Gray’s fate on Monday spilled over to last night.
Gray’s criticisms raise questions about what will happen on June 30.
Gray has said he will stay on at Union United — and keep living in the manse — if asked by the congregation.
He insisted Union United owns the buildings. Presbytery officials insisted they are owned by the United Church of Canada.
Braman did not want to discuss the church’s legal recourse. “We’re not at that stage. We’re at the stage of dialogue.”
Gray said the prospect of Union United breaking away from the United Church has been discussed.
“I don’t advocate it. That’s not a decision that I have to make. It’s a decision that the congregation has to make.
“There are people who are talking about a parting of the ways.”
Gray, who enjoys significant support among parishioners, said he felt his chances of being in the church on July 1 were “great.”
“I can be with Union outside of the United Church, and that would be all right with me, too.
“On the first Sunday of July, I will preach in Montreal somewhere.”
As he spoke to reporters, a few people in the pews called out “Amen” a few times.
Cynthia Thomas was among Gray’s supporters.
She travels from the West Island to attend church service there and said the United Church’s handling of the situation is unfair.
“If the United Church really wanted to support him, they can give him extensions.”
Union United is a community church, she said. “And a master’s degree is not what is important to us.”
Gray said that if he left Union United — and he hopes it doesn’t come to that — a significant number of people might bolt, too.
“And that would be regrettable.”