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Photo courtesy of Gary Burrill

Verbatim

‘Both politics and church bring people together’

By Jon Tattrie


Rev. Gary Burrill was elected the leader of Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party in 2016. Before politics, he served the Upper Musquodoboit pastoral charge and helped establish United Heritage Church in Sydney, N.S. He spoke with Jon Tattrie.

On being the son of a minister: My father, Fred Burrill, was an outstanding preacher. I was brought up listening to preaching. My father devoted himself to the discipline of the preached word all his life. I would be very happy to be a quarter as effective [at preaching] as my father was. He had absolute, unremitting, compelling sincerity of conviction.

On our true purpose: I’ve been a Christian socialist all my adult life. I am deeply persuaded. My mind is configured around the truth of the central idea of the New Testament: that when social arrangements are based on greater levels of sharing, this is in line with the purposes of the Creator. When social arrangements are based on greater levels of greed, this is anathema to the purposes of
the Creator.

Our purpose in the world is to align ourselves with the purposes of the Creator, which is to move to greater levels of sharing, co-operation and fairness.

On what all ministers should learn: If I was ever going to be in charge of a theological school, there would be two compulsory courses: how to chord a keyboard and how to chord a guitar. I think in organizing churches, there are few things more useful and effective in building a community than music. This has certainly been true for me in my pastoral ministry.

On similarities between church and state:
The pastoral ministry and social democratic political work are a lot more similar than you might think. At its core, giving leadership to a church congregation is bringing people together into a stronger focus on their common purpose. Well, that’s also what political work is.

A political party is an organization of people who share a deep abiding sense of the direction that our society urgently needs to go in, so we bring together our efforts on the basis of our common beliefs. Lots of people say, when I finish speaking at meetings for our party, “Will somebody pass the plate? The sermon’s over!”

On preaching versus politicking: As a [university] lecturer, I typically had 80 minutes to figure out what I was going to do. When I first went into preaching, I thought, “How can I possibly begin, develop and complete a thought in 20 minutes?” Now I’m in the world where it has to be done in 20 seconds, and I try my best to learn it! 

This interview has been condensed and edited.




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