UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Uncle Dudley’s Jesus

By Debbie McMillan

In 2012, I visited the Martyrs’ Shrine with my church’s confirmation class. This Roman Catholic church in Midland, Ont., honours the 17th-century Jesuit priests who brought Christianity to the Huron people and died for their convictions.

On a wall inside the shrine is a display of canes, crutches and walkers, each one sent or left by a person claiming to have been healed after praying in this place. The facilitator asked us to prayerfully consider what we’d brought to the shrine that October day. For me, the answer was my own complicated history and memories of my Uncle Dudley, a Jesuit priest.

Dudley was an uncle on my dad’s side. When I was born — out of wedlock and biracial — Dudley did something that my mom’s family wouldn’t do: he prayed over me, made the sign of the cross on my forehead and kissed me. His blessing gave Mom and me a visible sign of God’s unquestioning, inclusive love.

Mom’s side, all United Church members, didn’t accept me as quickly. Some even suggested that I be put up for adoption to preserve Mom’s “honour and dignity.” It was two years before I was baptized in the United Church. Even then, a few members of the congregation opposed it.

Uncle Dudley didn’t care about Mom’s morals. When we visited his parish, we received communion along with everyone else. He often told me about his Jesus, who suffered and died but was also alive in a way that was incomprehensible and holy. His Jesus pushed past pain and into a place of unconditional love. Uncle Dudley always said he was able to love because his Jesus loved him first.

Looking around the Martyrs’ Shrine, I saw Uncle Dudley’s Jesus everywhere: arms pinned into a macabre openness, welcoming all even in the pain of a tortured brokenness. It’s a difficult image of both hatred and love.

Across from my pew was another difficult image: a glass box containing a portion of St. Jean de Brébeuf’s skull. People knelt on the bench before it, devoting themselves to prayer and contemplation. I took my turn and found myself talking to God about the strange relationships between suffering, healing, affliction and joy; about the complex ambivalence of my personal theology while confronted by the remains of a Jesuit priest who died for his faith. I thought about being a baby rejected from one church and accepted by another. And I wondered: how in God’s name do I make sense of all this?

I rose, exhausted and frustrated. I left nothing at the wall; I didn’t experience healing. Instead, I carried away personal discomfort.

Three years have passed since that visit, and I finally have an answer. How do I make sense of my contradictions? I don’t. I simply embody them.

Uncle Dudley’s Jesus was also full of contradictions: fully divine and fully human; accepted and rejected; dead and alive. My Jesus is his Jesus: the complex Christ who is Holy Mystery. It is that Jesus whom I glimpsed at the shrine, who blessed and affirmed my complexities through his own and gave me peace.

Rev. Debbie McMillan is a minister in Vasey, Ont.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image