Kate McCray, right, is one of two recipients of funds to continue their studies from the Marjorie McKinnon Ecumenical Award given to Janet Somerville. Right photo by Michael Swan, Register file photo left

Lifetime ecumenical award boosts two young scholars' careers

By 
  • February 15, 2017

A lifetime of ecumenical commitment has been transposed onto a couple of younger commitments to ecumenism.

An award given to former Canadian Council of Churches general secretary Janet Somerville has resulted in support for two young scholars at the University of St. Michael’s faculty of theology. Both of the newly funded scholars concentrate on ecumenical studies, an area where 79-year-old Somerville spent a lifetime building bridges.

The honour, called the Marjorie McKinnon Ecumenical Award, was bestowed on Somerville Feb. 1 by the Order of St. Lazarus Toronto Commandery. The order’s awards are always given for a lifetime of achievement, with the money going to a younger person nominated by the award recipient.

“They give it to somebody who is finished their life’s work,” said Somerville. “A young person just starting out in the same enterprise gets the money, which is kind of a neat idea.”

In Somerville’s case, $750 each went to two young scholars recommended to her by the faculty of theology.

Antiochian Greek Orthodox Christian Kate McCray plans to finish her PhD at St. Mike’s in 2019, following a short break for her second child arriving next month. She studies the practical ecumenism at the parish level, which she observes in communities feeding the poor and caring for the sick, especially those with mental illness.

Fellow PhD student Christian Stakaruk, an American Evangelical Baptist, studies the emerging possibilities for interfaith and ecumenical relations involving American, Bible-based Evangelicals.

McCray said she was deeply honoured to receive an award in the name of one of the first women to ever study theology at St. Michael’s. Somerville earned her Master of Arts in theology in 1965, just as the Second Vatican Council wrapped up. She went on to volunteer with the Catholic Worker movement under Dorothy Day in New York, interview Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., produce radio programming at the CBC, sit on several ecumenical dialogue bodies in Canada and become the first woman and first Catholic to run the day-to-day affairs of the Canadian Council of Churches in 1997.

“She’s so soft-spoken, but when you listen to what she is saying it’s like, ‘Wow, you are an incredibly powerful lady,’ ” McCray said.

Somerville took both McCray and Stakaruk out for coffee at Tim Hortons’ before the award was granted.

“It was a real rekindling of hope to meet them and listen to them,” said Somerville. “It was like a shot of oxygen.”

The grand priory of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in Canada has a bursary program which encompasses 15 universities. The money for the bursaries comes from the Canadian branch of the order’s ecumenical commission.

While the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem has only been in Canada since 1963, it’s been around since 1048. Over the past 10 years, the members of the Order of St. Lazarus throughout Canada have raised and contributed approximately $2.7 million to various charitable projects.

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