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The Particular Grace of Doug Jay: A Life Remembered

Jan. 15, 2021

There is so very much to celebrate as we remember our cherished colleague and beloved leader, the Rev. Dr. C. Douglas Jay. His role in shaping the institutional fabric and vision of Emmanuel College, the Toronto School of Theology and The United Church of Canada has been enormous and enduring. His own story of academic and ecclesial achievements never fails to inspire: teaching logic to veterans in his early twenties at Queens; completing his PhD at Edinburgh in less than two years; ministry in rural Ontario; leadership in the United Church and the World Council of Churches (WCC); founding director of the Toronto School of Theology; principal of Emmanuel College; president of the Association of Theological Schools; Member of the Order of Canada; and through it all, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather.

It helps me also to remember that a direct line can be drawn from Emmanuel’s present vision of interreligious theological education to Doug’s passion for inter-faith dialogue and his role in the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and the United Church’s own Commission on World Mission. Under his leadership, the United Church prophetically asserted in 1966 that “God is creatively and redemptively at work in the religious life of all humanity.” What we are seeking to do at Emmanuel today, Doug Jay was laying the foundation for over fifty years ago. 

But I also find myself recalling somewhat smaller things when I remember “Dr. Jay.” When I arrived at Emmanuel in the late 80s to begin my doctoral studies with David Newman, I distinctly remember Principal Jay mingling among the new students at an orientation reception. He took time to get to know us as individuals. He asked me about my ministry in rural Nova Scotia and shared something of his own experience on his pastoral charges in Ontario.

Two years later, when David Newman died suddenly of cancer, Doug called me in to his office and asked me to teach David’s courses for the coming semester. Still grieving, I was stunned and felt woefully ill-equipped. After a lengthy and gentle yet persuasive conversation, he concluded by saying, “You can do it. And my door is always open.” How could anyone say no to Dr. Jay? Over the next several months, I frequently wandered down to his office at the end of the day to take him up on his offer. His counsel was always wise, supportive and calming. I know that I was not alone among students in experiencing his caring.

I also had to preside at David Newman’s funeral, at which Doug was one of several speakers offering words of tribute. When he asked me how long he had to speak, I had the temerity to say “I’m telling everyone no longer than three minutes.” Doug’s eyebrow raised ever so slightly. At the reception following the service, he sought me out to say, in his typically dry fashion, “I don’t know how long that turned out to be but, for the record, I timed it at home and it was 2 minutes and 54 seconds.”

When I returned to pastoral ministry, long after Doug had retired, I received a lovely note from him. And another when I was later hired by Emmanuel. And yet another when I was promoted to the rank of associate professor. His interest in all things Emmanuel never waned. Well into his 90s, he made every effort to attend Emmanuel’s graduations, functions and alumni/ae gatherings, always taking a keen interest in everyone and everything we were doing.

For me, the astonishing scope of Doug Jay’s leadership and service resonates all the more deeply because of the particular grace of his steadfast faith, infinite patience and quiet humility.

William S. Kervin, Associate Professor of Public Worship, Emmanuel College
Epiphany 2021

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