New pastor wants to 'draw the circle wider' around progressive Toronto church

A new senior pastor is stepping up to lead Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a progressive protestant church with a focus on LGTBQ outreach and inclusion.

Rev. Jeff Rock will replace Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes as head of Metropolitan Community Church

Rev. Jeff Rock will lead the Metropolitan Community Church starting in October — an institution he credits with helping to "pave the way" for him to serve in the ministry as an openly gay man. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

A new senior pastor is stepping up to lead Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a progressive protestant church with a focus on LGBTQ outreach and inclusion.

Reverend Jeff Rock will fill the position left by longtime senior pastor Brent Hawkes, who led the congregation for 40 years and officiated Canada's first legal gay marriage.

Rock paid tribute to the outgoing pastor in a Friday appearance on Metro Morning

"I'm an openly gay man who's a minister in a church. The reason I can do that is because people like Brent Hawkes and the community of MCC have paved the way for me," he said.

Outgoing senior pastor Brent Hawkes served as the Pride Parade's Grand Marshall and worked to improve relations between Toronto's LGTBQ community and the police. (Eric Foss/CBC)

Rock said his goal in his new position, which will officially begin in October, is to "widen the circle" around the church.

"My role will be to do a lot more outreach. To make sure that a young Muslim man in Etobicoke or a new Canadian in Markham or a senior citizen in downtown Toronto knows they are loved, they are valued, they are included no matter who they are," he explained.

Rev. Jeff Rock is stepping up to replace Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes as new senior pastor of Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church. 3:18

Indigenous reconciliation on priority list

Rock said he also plans to draw on his experience with Indigenous reconciliation, gained while serving at a church in Red Deer, Alberta and while growing up in Northern Ontario to continue to forge ahead on racial justice issues.

"Inclusion is what matters to me," said Rock. "It is the primary religious value."

Countering the conventional narrative that interest in organized religion is retreating, Rock said he thinks people are "thirsting" for the belonging and purpose that a church can bring.

"Places like MCC Toronto are what people are searching for, they just don't know it yet," he said.

He also noted that the MCC congregation's fastest growing segment are people who identify as straight.

Hawkes to stay involved in LGBTQ community

After his retirement from the church, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes has plans to create an international organization uniting religious LGBTQ people in the fight against religious-based homophobia, which he says remains the leading cause of homophobic discrimination around the world.

​Before that, he says he'll take some time to garden, golf and reflect on his career and accomplishments in Toronto and around the country.

Earlier this year, Hawkes was found not guilty in a series of sex crimes dating back to the 1970's by a Nova Scotia court.

With files from Metro Morning