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Another famous five

The United Church’s women moderators and the origins of Mother’s Day

By Carolyn Pogue

The Famous Five women guided Canadians through a wild time in history. Because of them, Canadian women were declared “persons” and won the right to vote. One of them, Nellie McClung, was a member of the United Church.

Today, the church has a modern “Famous Five,” working for justice on many fronts. They are the women moderators who helped guide us through wild times, too: the changing status of the church, of women, of gay and lesbian people, of First Nations, and more.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, here is an update from our Famous Five moderators, all still changing the world.

Very Rev. Lois Wilson was our first woman moderator, elected in 1980. She later served in the Canadian Senate (as an Independent) and became the first Canadian to serve as president of the World Council of Churches. She is characteristically up to her eyeballs in challenging work. She writes from Toronto: “I am a first-time great-grandma. I am writing a book, I Want to be in that Number (sketches of Christians I have known, the text used at their funeral, how appropriate it was, and what it means for us). I’ve recently critiqued United Church ‘Celebration of Life’ practices for an article in Touchstone. I am active at the Christian Resource Centre at Regent Park in trying to start a new faith community. I am about to begin work on addressing the situation of Roma refugees and am hoping to launch my kayak in the next two weeks.”

Anne Squire, our first laywoman moderator, took the first barrage of attacks against the United Church when we announced that gay and lesbian people were eligible to be ordained and commissioned ministers. Anne writes from Ottawa that she and her husband, Bill, have recently moved into a retirement community and are busy planning their 70th wedding anniversary celebration for June. “We are still active at Emmanuel United and are part of a study group known as The Heretics. As a matron of the Multi-faith Housing Initiative, I still participate in other interfaith activities.”

Marion Best, another lay moderator who later served the World Council of Churches, is continuing the role she took on in helping our church understand the legacy of the Residential Schools. She writes from Naramata, “My main focus these days is related to trying to build just, respectful relations with our Aboriginal neighbours as part of our journey to reconciliation. Our inter-church group offers educational events and promotes opportunities for non-Aboriginal folks in both church and community to attend events sponsored by the Penticton Indian Band. . . . The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) comes to B.C. this year; we encourage attendance at regional TRC hearings as well as the major event in Vancouver.”

Very Rev. Marion Pardy’s focus has been on developing inter-church and inter-faith relations to tackle poverty issues. Marion writes from St. John’s, N.L., that she recently served on the board of the Canadian Council of Churches and is ending her term as president of the St. John’s Council of Churches. Marion is a director of the multi-faith poverty action group, Social Action Coalition. She serves with the Stella Burry Community Services, an incorporated ministry of the United Church, a provincial social services agency. In June, Marion heads to her Twillingate cottage, where, she says, she gets her ice from an iceberg.

Mardi Tindal, author and journalist was elected when she lived in Brantford, Ont., but now lives in Toronto. She writes, “I remain passionate about sustaining courageous, resilient leadership for the healing of soul, community and creation. I lead retreats as a facilitator with Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, where our concerns, hopes and passions give rise to renewed energy for our vocations.” Mardi’s article, “The right kind of trouble” will appear in The Observer in June.

Mother’s Day originated as a day for women to take up their role as peacemakers. I am thankful for our own Famous Five who do exactly that.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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