The McCain’s, of french fries fame, have donated a million dollars to the Metropolitan Church in Toronto. This is pretty significant news in my neck of the woods. Wallace McCain who made the gift referred to the connection back in New Brunswick that he had with the MCC’s pastor, Brent Hawkes. Seems that the Hawkes family grocery store and subsequent restaurant were only a few miles down the road from the McCain plant. And in New Brunswick these kinds of connections are a big deal. There can be a down home family feel in the densely wooded, sports inclined, slower-paced but hard-working milieu one finds in places like Florenceville.
In fact, I have my own Wallace McCain story. After having finished my undergrad degree at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, I started my career working at the YMCA. It was a good entry-level learning position, but it didn’t pay much. I became an in-home care-giver to Wallace’s 90-something spinster aunt who lived just a few houses away from the YMCA. Wallace interviewed me for the job in his Florenceville home, told me stories of the growth of the family business, and while always ensuring that we were well stocked with McCain frozen meals, wanted to ensure that I was making regular home-made meals for his aunt. He readily acknowledged that she could be a challenge – but was also protective and concerned for her well-being.
As I think about this family’s generous gift to MCC a few things come to my mind. Over the years, I haven’t really had direct interaction with Toronto’s MCC. I know people who have – and they’ve had a variety of stories to tell. My understanding is that Brent Hawkes has had a negative view of New Direction – which would have been understandable given our ex-gay history. I’ve wondered from time to time about connecting with him for coffee – but it didn’t yet seem to be the right timing. When asked about gay people going to MCC, my standard response over the years was that I hoped and prayed that they would encounter the love of God there – and that where they ended up was up to God. And, indeed, I have heard stories of those who came out of very closeted and painful experiences in more conservative churches who felt their hearts come back to life in the warm welcome they received at MCC.
I think this gift speaks to the general heart attitude of openness and recognition of the need and importance of equity. Wallace McCain seems to understand that when “I diminish you, I diminish myself”. The million dollar gift, in addition to helping to pay off the mortgage on the church building, will be used to help the church be a safe haven and passage for lgbt refugees. Hawkes made note of the reality that in 68 countries it is illegal to be lgbt and in ten of those one can be executed for being gay. I am grateful that this gift will help to set up a program to respond in not only a humanitarian, but Christ-like manner, to those fleeing such violently oppressive contexts. This is a beacon for justice.
(Note: While I am not unaware of the history of the activist role of Hawkes and Toronto MCC, I don’t particularly see this gift as being connected to any political endeavours.)
None-the-less, I’m somewhat bracing myself for any backlash from conservative religious voices and the seemingly inevitable call to boycott McCain products. I’d like to think that Canadians will choose less reactionary responses, but I just can’t be sure. I, for one, will continue to enjoy McCain sweet potato fries.
I pray that this will be an opportunity to acknowledge the need for equity and justice regardless of one’s theological position on the question of same-sex relationships. And I pray for the great success of the development of the program to assist and support lgbt refugees. It would be wonderful if at some point Brent and I could talk about the program over lattes.