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Eldon Hay strong advocate for human rights over lengthy career
Eldon Hay is presented with the Order of Canada in 2004 by Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada.
SACKVILLE, N.B. – He’s had a long and storied career; and that lifelong dedication to his ministry and as a strong advocate for human rights was recently celebrated by the United Church of Canada.
During the annual Maritime United Church Conference last month, Sackville’s Eldon Hay was recognized for six decades of service to the church, having been ordained as a minister in Ottawa back in 1957.
Rev. Hay, who has made his home in Sackville for the past 55 years, has been a champion for a more tolerant and inclusive society throughout his career, and was the recipient of a Human Rights Award from the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission in 1997 and the Order of Canada in 2004.
The person we sometimes like the least, and have the most difficulty with, they are the most important; they are all children of God.
Rev. Eldon Hay
Now retired, both from teaching and as a minister, 85-year-old Hay said he hopes he has left a lasting impression on the lives of his students, parishioners and the community at large.
“I hope, if anything, I left the idea that we must pay attention to the outsider,” he said. “The person we sometimes like the least, and have the most difficulty with, they are the most important; they are all children of God.”
Be kind, he encourages, as there are so many people that “don’t have the chances you and I have had.” Hay said he’s a strong believer in the mantra, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
Born and raised in Marvelville, Ont., Hay attended Queens and Carleton Universities, studying theology, and was ordained as a United Church minister in 1957.
But not feeling like he was done with his education, Hay then headed to Scotland with his wife and son in tow, where he enrolled in a PhD program at Glasgow University.
“I just knew I didn’t have enough stuff, I felt I needed more,” he said.
After receiving his doctorate, Hay returned to Canada in 1960 with his wife and now three children, and was placed at a church in Thetford Mines, Quebec.
Two years later, however, he would get a call from Mount Allison University, offering him a job teaching religious studies and serving as a part-time chaplain.
“I had never been to the Maritimes before,” he said.
Hay and his family came to Sackville in the summer of 1962 and have been here ever since.
Teaching various courses over his 35 years at Mount Allison, including world religion and theology, he retired from the university in ’97 with Professor Emeritus status. During that time, he also served as a part-time minister, mainly at the Jolicure and Pointe de Bute parishes.
Throughout his career, Hay has been an avid human rights activist, dealing with issues related to feminism, anti-semitism, and anti-French sentiments.
It was in 1986, however, when his son Ron came out as gay, that he then began to place more focus on erasing anti-homophobic views as well.
Hay recalls at first he was hesitant to vocalize his opinions on this issue, particularly as part of his sermons, as he was unsure of the reactions he would get in the church. Although affirming of his son in his personal life, it took a couple years of soul-searching before Hay was able to confidently speak out in favour of it publicly.
But when he did, he knew it was the right thing to do.
“I knew in my heart that it was okay. I knew deep down I was right.”
Hay’s beliefs and attitudes toward homosexuality were shunned by some, including a few of his students and his colleagues. He has also faced opposition from the United Church due to religious debates on homosexuality.
But Hay has remained steadfast in his views and said there has also been strong support over the years in the fight for a safe and equal society for the GLBTQ community.
Hay’s advocacy was instrumental in getting a regional chapter of PFLAG started in Moncton in the early 1990s. Months later, he helped initiate a PFLAG chapter in Amherst as well. Through group meetings and get-togethers, PFLAG not only offered support, education and comfort for the family and friends of lesbians and gays but also worked towards a healthy society respectful of gender and sexuality.
Hay was awarded the New Brunswick Human Rights Award in 1997 for his work with PFLAG and his commitment to making his community a safer and more accepting society for the gays and lesbians.