An­nual Pride church ser­vice loses its space

Or­ga­niz­ers scram­ble to find work­able lo­ca­tion for event in lead-up to June’s pa­rade


For more than two decades, Rev. Brent Hawkes has led a church ser­vice on the morn­ing of Toronto’s Pride Pa­rade.

In the mid-’90s, Hawkes led Faith + Pride out of Maple Leaf Gar­dens. He’d bought his first bul­let­proof vest for the oc­ca­sion. Last year, he preached at Pride’s South Stage, at Church and Wood Sts., with the prime min­is­ter, premier and mayor sit­ting in the front row. “It’s been a great ex­pe­ri­ence for us down through the years,” Hawkes said.

The pas­tor and LGBTQ ac­tivist is due to re­tire from the Metropoli­tan Com­mu­nity Church of Toronto (MCCT) at the end of the year. This was to be his last Faith + Pride ser­vice.

But a mix-up be­tween Pride Toronto and the MCCT has lost this year’s Faith + Pride ser­vice its stage, in favour of sev­eral other acts, and sparked out­rage from some mem- bers of both the church and the broader LGBTQ com­mu­nity who con­sider the mix-up a slight.

“It re­ally dis­turbed me that en­ter­tain­ers were get­ting pri­or­ity over Brent Hawkes, who is one of our great­est he­roes,” said Dou­glas El­liott, a hu­man rights lawyer and mem­ber of Pride Toronto. “There wouldn’t be a Pride Toronto if it wasn’t for Brent Hawkes.”

Since 1990, Faith + Pride, for­merly known as Church on Church, has been a sta­ple of Toronto’s Pride week­end. In re­cent years, crowds of con­gre­gants gath­ered at Pride’s South Stage, just east of Maple Leaf Gar­dens.

The South Stage is now ground zero for bull­doz­ers, cranes and other con­struc­tion equip­ment. Two mas­sive condo build­ings are un­der con­struc­tion along Church St, be­tween Wood and Car­leton Sts. So, early in 2017, the MCCT be­gan look­ing for other op­tions.

Ini­tially, the MCCT asked if Yonge-Dun­das Square was an op­tion. Pride said no, but of­fered Allen Gar­dens in re­turn. The church ul­ti­mately turned this spot down.

“We did some care­ful in­ves­ti­gat­ing and look­ing at the site, and de­ter­mined that un­for­tu­nately, that site will not work for our ser­vice,” said Rev. Deana Dud­ley in an ad­dress to the MCCT’s con­gre­ga­tion last Sun­day. One of their rea­sons was that Faith + Pride might dis­rupt Sun­day morn­ing ser­vices at other churches near Allen Gar­dens.

“They sug­gested the Welles­ley Stage. And we thought: ‘OK, that’s per­fect,’ ” Hawkes said. But the church wanted to be sure they weren’t bump­ing Block­o­rama, their neigh­bours on the stage. The Black-fo­cused mu­sic event has a his­tory of be­ing shuf­fled around Pride, Hawkes said, and the church didn’t want this to hap­pen again in 2017.

Pride ini­tially gave them the thumbs-up, but later changed their an­swer. Hawkes said it was be­cause events on the Welles­ley Stage that day, not just Block­o­rama, wouldn’t have enough time to cy­cle through sound checks and other pre-show prepa­ra­tions be­fore their start time.

The church and Pride went back to the draw­ing board and had a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion over whether the area around a Church St. school was on or off the table. Pride thought the church had re­jected it; the church thought Pride had re­moved it as a pos­si­bil­ity.

Amid all this, com­ments be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing on­line about the mo­tive be­hind the loss of Faith + Pride’s venue. On Wed­nes­day, Hawkes is­sued a state­ment that re­jected the ru­mours of an at­tempt by Pride Toronto to marginal­ize the church’s in­volve­ment in this year’s fes­ti­val.

“Much of this seems to have taken the form of claims that Pride Toronto had ‘banned’ or ‘ex­cluded’ Metropoli­tan Com­mu­nity Church of Toronto for var­i­ous rea­sons,” Hawkes said of these ru­mours. “This is sim­ply not the case.”

“Peo­ple are kind of look­ing for a rea­son to call out Pride Toronto on the ex­clu­sion plank,” Jane Far­row said. She’s at­tended the MCCT a num­ber of times, and, while she doesn’t be­lieve Pride is ex­clud­ing the church, she has heard the dis­cus­sions about the mix-up.

In the mean­time, Pride Toronto said it’s try­ing to work out a new deal with the church so that Faith + Pride goes ahead as planned.

“We are stay­ing very much in con­nec­tion with MCC Toronto,” said Ryan Con­nelly, Pride Toronto’s spokesper­son.

The in­tri­ca­cies of plan­ning a mas­sive, month-long fes­ti­val, cul­mi­nat­ing in one of Toronto’s largest pa­rades, also means that mix-ups can and do oc­cur.

“It’s the na­ture of large fes­ti­val plan­ning,” said Con­nelly in a sen­ti­ment echoed by Hawkes.

“Here’s a Pride or­ga­ni­za­tion that has to or­ga­nize a mas­sive, mas­sive fes­ti­val while be­ing pres­sured on all fronts (and) hav­ing a shorter time­frame to do that. . . . That’s a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing,” Hawkes said.

Rev. Brent Hawkes has led the Faith + Pride ser­vice at Pride for more than 20 years.

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