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The moderator and the opposite of fear

By David Wilson

I can see a cassette tape labelled "Giuliano" amid the clutter on top of my computer and I am reminded of a conversation with the elected leader of The United Church of Canada last winter.

I needed to interview Rt. Rev. David Giuliano for a story. The moderator was happy to have a chat but unsure when his schedule would permit it. Eventually he found a slot -- sort of. He would be driving back to Toronto from an event in Peterborough, Ont., one afternoon in February. He could do the interview en route, via cellphone. When the appointed hour arrived, I rang him. Through the miracle of hands-free technology, Giuliano and I had a long and stimulating conversation. I am familiar with the road from Peterborough to Toronto and was able to advise the moderator on where speed traps might lurk. He assured me he was cruising along at the limit. When the interview wrapped up 45 minutes later, I had what I needed on tape, and the moderator was 70 kilometres closer to home.

Make that his home away from home. The next time I spoke with him, Giuliano was hunkered down in Thunder Bay, Ont., trying to get to his real home in Marathon, Ont., for Easter. The night before, he had returned from a two-week visit to the Middle East (see Dispatches, page 12). Exhausted from a packed itinerary and the long flight back to Canada, Giuliano had caught a morning plane from Toronto to Thunder Bay, aiming to connect with a shuttle bus through to Marathon later in the day. The famously fickle Northern Ontario weather threw him a curve. A late-season blizzard socked in Thunder Bay and the entire Lake Superior region. When I caught up with the moderator, he was stranded inside the Thunder Bay bus terminal, hoping to catch an evening shuttle to Marathon -- assuming the roads reopened.

Eventually he made it home, no doubt cured of any lingering misconceptions that life as leader of Canada's largest Protestant denomination is even remotely glamorous. I have been around long enough to have seen eight moderators in action, and I am continually struck by the United Church's uncanny knack for electing the right leader at the right time. David Giuliano is no exception. "Fear not" was his simple rallying cry when he was elected a year ago. Those two words still resonate powerfully in a church facing a future with no guarantees, and in a world where fear has become a kind of global currency.

The moderator's words never rang truer than when he stood before church decision-makers gathered in Mississauga, Ont., last spring and calmly announced that he had a tumour on the side of his head that required major surgery and extensive radiation therapy. "You don't need to feel sorry for me," he said. "The main thing is to know I'm in your prayers."

By the time you read this, Giuliano will have had his surgery. It goes without saying that his illness will curtail his official duties over the summer; others will fill in for him. I hope that when we resume our monthly publishing schedule in September, we will be able to report that David Giuliano is on the road to a complete recovery. In the meantime, we can honour him by prayerfully considering the words he used to conclude what he admitted was a very difficult announcement to make: "The opposite of fear is not courage but faith."

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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