The Rev. Patricia Lisson: Walking humbly with our God

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Montreal Diocesan Theological College & United Church Studies at Dio is delighted to be conferring the Honorary Doctorate of Divinity on The Rev. Patricia Lisson at this year’s convocation on May 8th.  Patricia is being recognized for her decades-long commitment to social ministry in the United Church of Canada and beyond. “We are pleased to honour a lifetime of effort within the church to advance social justice questions and to give this ministry recognition,” says Pr. Eric Dyck, Acting Principal at Montreal Dio.

Patricia was commissioned as a minister in the United Church of Canada in 1978 after studying at the Centre for Christian Studies in Toronto. She went on to work in various parishes, including Trinity St. Paul’s and Davenport-Perth United Church in Toronto, Park Royal United Church in PEI, and Richmond Melbourne United Church in Quebec. From 2001 to 2007 she worked as the chaplain at Bishop’s College School and then spent her last 8 years before retirement serving as the Executive Director of St. Columba House in Montreal. At all her parish placements she has gone beyond the church walls, assessing the needs of the local community, and establishing various partnerships between the church and government and social service organisations. While at Trinity St. Paul’s, Patricia helped to establish Common Ground Women’s Centre as well as St. Paul’s Centre, an independent organization run out of the church building that provided space for social justice organizations. In Davenport-Perth she was a significant contributor to the founding of several programs at the Neighbourhood Community Centre including a health centre, seniors centre, and family centre. Throughout her career in ministry, she has been involved in international human rights advocacy both within and outside the church. Currently she serves as the chair for the Canadian chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, with which she has gone to the United Nations in Geneva twice in the past year.

Guided by the question of what it means to be a good neighbour, Patricia’s ministry is one of communication and collaboration. In her ministry charges she has found ways to integrate different religious groups, community organisations, and sectors of government using shared community needs as a basis. During her time in Richmond, she was part of a process of community development between the French- and English-speaking communities in the area. “I think it was the first time that the English community and the French community sat in the same room to express the needs of their communities,” she says. “What worked about it was that we sat down as a neighbourhood. We sat down and identified together, in whichever language, what were the needs and what were the fears.” Within that same community she was able to establish an ecumenical partnership with the Catholic church. “We would often do Good Friday services together. That was one of those times where we could easily cross-over without too much consternation about theology or who’s taking Communion.” In addition to ecumenical and inter-cultural collaboration, her work with the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Community Centre involved unprecedented intergovernmental communication. “You don’t get into the healthcare system unless you can engage the municipal, provincial, and federal government so we called all three together,” she explains. “They told us that was the first time in Toronto that those three levels of government actually sat in the same room and talked.” Patricia’s work in all these areas is a testament to the church’s capacity for relationship building within and beyond the Christian community. Her commitment to collaborative social justice is a profound example of the Gospel message in action.

For Patricia, faith and activism go hand in hand. “I go back to the Micah statement,” she says. “‘What does the Lord require of you? ‘To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ That is the call.” The fight for justice is unceasing, but her faith and her commitment to God’s people keep her going. “There’s mystery and hope and excitement and people. And when you’re with people you become connected to their story”. Her hope for the church is that we can continue to find new ways of spreading the Gospel. “I think we’ve locked ourselves in our buildings thinking we don’t have anything to offer our communities,” she says. “Unfortunately, we find problems in the solutions before we take advantage of them. The real challenge for us is to find solutions in the problems.”

Patricia will be leading a workshop at St. James United Church before the convocation ceremony on May 8th from 3:30pm-5:00pm entitled “Soul of the Community: Building Neighbourhoods of Hope”. The workshop will focus on how fear can drive us toward hopeful action. All are warmly welcome to attend this free event as well as the convocation ceremony at 7:00pm at Christ Church Cathedral.