I grew up in a very small city in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s, an era when most suburban Americans went to church. There was only one church in town, an interdenominational Protestant church, and that’s the one I attended. I learned some basic things about Jesus, memorized some Bible passages, sang hymns that still touch my heart, and was shaped by parents who had a strong moral compass. As a young teenager, however, I entered a period of scepticism about the kind of Christianity that my church was teaching me. My experience of my church was that it wasn’t very — theological, and the message that I encountered there was a bit thin. Oddly, it was in an English class in the public high school, grades 11 and 12, that I began to connect with the depth and the challenge of Christian teaching. That was because my teacher, a former seminarian and the brother of a Jesuit priest, recognized how much western literature was rooted in the Bible, and so he taught the Christian faith as much as he taught literature. This set me on a journey with many waypoints, including being shaken by President Kennedy’s assassination, falling in love with J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” and spending a period of more intentional seeking that took me to the Faculty of Divinity at McGill University, and, on Sundays, to Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal. Along the way, I made a commitment to Christ and his Church, which I sealed in my confirmation on Holy Saturday, 1971.
I completed my divinity degree at McGill, and then stayed for a PhD. I’m a bit of a generalist, so I decided to concentrate on history, since I figured that everything is history, and I wouldn’t need to foreclose on future academic interests. As I was finishing my doctorate, a position came open at Wycliffe, which I can believe was a matter of providence. I’ve been at Wycliffe ever since.
My thesis was on a period of the English Reformation, 1535–1540, but while I was at Wycliffe I began to recognize how much Canadian church history was waiting to be researched—in contrast to English religious history, which is a very populated field. Canadian Christianity has grown into my main research interest. For the past several years, my particular focus has been the relation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the history of Canadian Christianity. The historical theme that most interests me is the diversity of ways in which Christian institutions and spiritualities sometimes reflect and sometimes challenge their surrounding cultures.
Along the way I was ordained to my academic ministry. As part of my formation for this vocation, I served an assistant curacy at St. George’s Anglican Church, Willowdale. After that I was honorary assistant priest at St. James, Humber Bay (now “Christ Church St. James”), which has had many connections with Wycliffe; and for the past dozen years I’ve been honorary assistant priest at St. Simon’s, Oakville. It’s a great blessing to feel thoroughly involved in a Christian community that isn’t an academic one! I’m an honorary canon of Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton.
At McGill I met the woman who would become my wife, Morar Murray-Hayes, who was ordained in the United Church around the time I was appointed to Wycliffe. She’s still in pastoral ministry 45 years later. We have two children and four grandchildren. My experience over the years has been that my greatest happinesses, my greatest anxieties, and my greatest sorrows have involved my children and grandchildren.
And through it all, in the highs and in the lows, God has been very, very good.