Susan Louise Mabey



(click to enlarge)

Stole Narrative

(first panel)

The Rev. Susan Louise Mabey
Toronto, Ontario

I learned to love God in the Presbyterian Church, to love Jesus in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and to love God's justice in the United Church of Canada.  I learned to be honest about myself in a wilderness of pain and, later, in the Metropolitan Community Churches.  While the United Church struggles toward full inclusivity, I offer this stole for all those who continue to lay down their lives for a church Someone already died to save.  In loving memory of the Rev. Sylvia Dunstan.

(second panel)

The movement towards full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the United Church of Canada began in 1981, when Susan Mabey was denied ordination in the Toronto Conference because of her sexual orientation.  The outcry over this denial began a time of national study and dialogue in the United Church.  During this time Susan left the United Church and accepted a call to a congregation in the Metropolitan Community Churches.  The United Church began ordaining gay and lesbian persons to the ministry in 1988.  This stole was given to Susan on the tenth anniversary of the United Church's historic decision, at the annual meeting of the Toronto Conference on May 23, 1998, Dundalk, Ontario.

Susan's stole was the first one given to the Shower of Stoles Project honoring a Canadian minister.

Historical Commentary

It is a rare thing for a church to say, "We were wrong."  It is rarer, still for a church body to repent for having acted unjustly, and to offer a public apology to one who was wronged.  But such were the circumstances surrounding the dedication of this stole in honor of Rev. Susan Louise Mabey.

As the story on this stole indicates, Susan Mabey's quest for, and subsequent denial of, ordination in the United Church of Canada set off a firestorm within the denomination.  The ensuing debate ended seven years later when, in 1988, LGBT persons were accorded the right to be ordained in the United Church.  By then, however, Susan had left, accepting a call to Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (the largest MCC congregation in the world) and returning to the University of Toronto to earn her PhD.

In 1998, the Toronto Conference chose to mark the tenth anniversary of the ordination of LGBT persons by inviting Susan back and acknowledging her enormous personal sacrifice that made this occasion possible.  This stole was prepared by an active LGBT lay leader in the conference, and was dedicated at a service of worship honoring Susan.  She said, understandably, that she had very mixed feelings about returning to the Toronto Conference, and that she debated whether she would accept the invitation or not.  In the end, however, she was glad that she had made the decision to come; it offered some closure on an immensely painful chapter in her life. 

It is fitting that, at the service of ordination for new ministers in the conference, one of the ordinands was a young gay man from the United States who had emigrated to Canada from the U.S. to be with his Canadian partner.

This was the first display of the stoles in Canada -- and the first in a hockey rink.  The Conference delegates were seated on the covered floor of Dundalk's municipal rink.  200 stoles were arranged on coat hangers along the glass wall surrounding the rink, creating a striking backdrop to the plenary.  The Shower of Stoles Project is honored that Susan Mabey's stole could be the first Canadian stole included in the collection.

Sylvia Dunstan, to whom this stole is dedicated,  was a minister, prison chaplain and prolific hymnodist in the United Church of Canada.  Many of her hymns are included in the hymnal of the United Church of Canada, and well as other denominations across the globe.  She was and "out" lesbian during much of her career in the church.  Sylvia died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 38.

Martha Juillerat
Founder, Shower of Stoles Project

Archival Record

Stole Number: 424

Honoree(s): Susan Louise Mabey

Donor(s): Members of the Toronto Conference, United Church of Canada

Geographical Designation: Toronto, ON / C38

Faith Tradition: United Church of Canada / Metropolitan Community Church

Donation Date: 2000