'Do you see me?' Anglican priest on expressing the mind, body and soul

Reverend Daniel Brereton, a priest at St. John's the Baptist Dixie Anglican Church in Mississauga, Ontario, says a rich spiritual life, can mean expressing who you really are, even on social media.
(Submitted by Daniel Brereton)

Reverend Daniel Brereton was trying to buy a chalice for his Mississauga, Ont. church, when he came face-to-face with the faith's centuries-old struggle over how to represent the Christian faith.

One beautiful chalice he found online would have cost St. John's the Baptist Dixie Anglican Church $2,000. Though Brereton could buy a cheaper one, the chalice needs to convey its ceremonial role — carrying the body and blood of Christ.

"It's an old joke but I've often said I could get to the pulpit and say 'I'm not sure if Jesus existed.' And my congregation would nod their heads and say, 'Well there's different perspectives,'" says Brereton, laughing.

Reverend Daniel Brereton preaches a sermon at his Mississauga, Ont. church. (Submitted by Daniel Brereton)

"But if I move the altar an inch to the left there would be war."

Brereton can assure parishioners he does believe in Jesus, but there is some truth to the joke, he says. People want to be able to see the soul of a symbol, or even a person, through its presentation.

Would a lesser chalice be the right vessel convey the holiness of the bread and wine? Maybe. But it's not a simple decision, as Brereton can attest. He's been thinking about the importance of self-expression since the beginning of his career.

An internal struggle

Part of that debate was personal. For a long time, Brereton wasn't sure whether he would be open about the fact that he's gay, especially in the context of the church.

"I do remember ... thinking the best I can hope for is to find a church where we'll all agree not to talk about it," says Brereton.

He eventually decided to make that leap, and Brereton is now happily married to his husband, James. He's even clear about his relationship on his Instagram and Twitter pages.

However that hasn't stopped people from questioning whether his sexuality is appropriate for a pastor, and whether those posts represent the faith he's leading.

For years, Brereton wrestled with that reaction. Now his concerns are what the other person is struggling with.

"What I realize now is I don't make their struggle mine," says Brereton.

Self-expression online

Social media is a way for Brereton to talk to his community and those curious about the faith. Beyond that, it's a means to have some fun.

But in those lighter moments, it's also an avenue to discuss his insecurities as a pastor.

Brereton once struggled wearing his robes. They convey the authority rested in the church and yet were often too big for him. The robes would almost hide his body and from his parishioners.

"It's black material. It's covering everything. But even the idea of like showing that you have a shape — I remember struggling with that," says Brereton.

He says being both friendly and honest allows him to connect with people. It also allows him to reach out to those who fear they'd have to hide a part of themselves to join a faith community.

"It's a huge part of my ministry, in a way, to not just connect with actual parishioners and people I know, but to connect with people who don't have a pastor or a priest," says Brereton.

Being seen how you want to be seen

For Brereton, much of the discussion around tradition — and the aesthetics that go along with it — are about how people want to be seen. If a person cares about modesty and humility, their clothes are ways to convey that. Although, these measures change over time and between communities, he adds.

There's something within us that wants to test our connection by saying, 'Do you see me?'- Daniel Brereton, Mississauga, Ont. Anglican priest

Even the way we talk about church can change with the decades. Brereton says it doesn't have to be the building with the steeple. People can pray through a dinner shared with friends, over wine.

What matters for Brereton is building a connection with God and with a community, and in that process, seeing others for who they are.

"I think there's something within us that wants to test our connection by saying, 'Do you see me? Do you know who I am and do you recognize something of yourself in me? And can I recognize something of myself in you?'" says Brereton.

"If that can be established, then that brings us closer together and helps us to recognize that oneness — that I think are our souls deep within suspect is there."

To hear Daniel Brereton talk about what it means to have true friendship and nearly bring Tapestry host Mary Hynes to tears, click LISTEN.