PAWFILES COLUMN: Boots has personality
When most people are looking for a cat or dog to bring into their lives, they often look for a kitten or puppy.
Rev. Ken Stright, right
Rev. Kenneth Stright hasn’t had a dull moment since being ordained in 1977.
“I’ve never been bored,” he says. “I’ve found that when I say yes to things, doors open. The more I say yes, the more doors open. When I say no, doors closed, so I learned to say yes.”
The affable Presbyterian, who was the minister at St. Andrew’s in Pictou for almost 16 years from 1986 to 2001, now leads the congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Saint David on Brunswick Street in Halifax.
The path that took him there was varied and interesting, beginning with leaving Pictou on a short-term assignment in 2001.
While in Pictou, he and his wife Jeanne, who is a United Church minister, lived in a house built by his grandfather, James Stright, who founded marine equipment distributor Stright-MacKay Ltd. There they raised their three children -- Jonathan, Kristelle, and Naomi – who are now grown.
In 2001, Rev. Stright was offered the opportunity to take on a mission assignment in Guyana. “It took me exactly five minutes to say yes to go to South America,” he says.
Stright took the place of the pastor, who had moved to another position, overseeing the worship life of parishioners in seven churches while a permanent minister was sought.
“I loved it,” he says. “It was beautiful.”
He says he enjoyed the dynamic culture there. “It’s a wonderful, unique mix of people. It was an amazing look at different cultures embracing Christianity.”
Along with ministering to the congregations, he spent time teaching the elders how to preach. He says clergy aren’t plentiful in Guyana, so lay people or elders look after everyday life. “It was my job to look after the elders who were looking after the churches.”
Upon his return to Nova Scotia, Stright took on several short-term assignments at different churches, which kept him on the move. At the same time, he served the national church in several posts.
“I was doing double duty in a lot of places,” he says. “After 16 years of never moving, I’ve been everywhere.”
The clergyman assisted both St. James in Sherbrooke (2002-2003) and in East Hants at the two-point charge of St. Matthew’s in Elmsdale and the Hardwood Lands Church (2003-2004), while they were in transition periods preparing for new ministers. He also assisted with establishing Community Presbyterian Church. “I was invited by the national church to start a church in the Tantallon area, which was fun.”
During part of this time, he also worked for the national denomination, as convenor of The Flames initiative, which focused on spirituality.
From 2004 until 2007, he was the education coordinator for healing and reconciliation with aboriginal people, travelling across the country several times to develop and write educational materials. This was in response to injustices and harms experienced by aboriginal people at residential schools. Out of 108 residential schools across Canada, the Presbyterian Church operated two.
As part of that job, he met with First Nations communities across the country, finding ways to bring the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities together and promote healing. “We were looking at ways of building bridges because of the residential schools. I did a lot of listening instead of talking. I loved it.”
Stright was chosen for the task because of his experience as a minister in a First Nations community in Manitoba called Waywayseecappo, where he spent four and a half years before coming to Pictou County in 1982. He had also served at St. David’s in Toney River and St. George’s in River John prior to his appointment at St. Andrew’s in Pictou. “I had done a lot of work for people hurting from the residential schools.”
From 2007 to 2010, Stright became the mission and education consultant for the Presbyterian Synod. This involved travelling almost every day as he worked in the four Atlantic provinces, holding workshops and educational conferences to help churches with strategic planning. “I was trying to prepare congregations to look at some of the challenges facing them in the future.”
He enjoyed his work as a consultant because it allowed him to see the “bigger picture” of the Presbyterian church in Canada. “It was a chance to step out of the single congregation life and see what was happening across the denomination.”
Seven years ago, Stright’s wife Jeanne accepted a call to St. Paul’s United Church in the Spryfield area of Halifax, moving from her position as minister at Alma/Greenhill and Merigomish. “And I went with her,” he says, adding that at the time he was working all over the Atlantic provinces as the mission and education consultant, so he could live anywhere.
That move brought him to his current position at St. David’s in 2010.
Stright says he decided to become the minister at the downtown church for several reasons.
“It has a very extensive ministry to street people and homeless. It’s a unique kind of ministry. I minister a lot out in the community, and I like that a lot.”
The church operates a mission and outreach program, providing food and clothing to those in need. Stright says many people in the area are dealing with critical issues such as homelessness, hunger, and addiction. “They often don’t know where their next meal is coming from or where they’re going to sleep that night.”
While he says this work is extremely rewarding, it can also be difficult and frustrating at times.
“I’m always connecting at the basic level with people. I appreciate and enjoy that kind of ministry. To work with people at that most basic level is a real privilege, but I don’t think it’s for everybody. There are a lot of people with very severe problems.”
The congregation is also going through a period of change as it undertakes a development project that will include tearing down the current hall and building a six-and-a-half storey commercial/residential complex. “I thought it would be interesting to see it through,” he says. “I enjoy the challenge of something that hasn’t been done before – breaking new ground.”
Along the way Stright was a delegate to the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Zimbabwe in 1998. He has also been a community contact for CBC Radio, having been interviewed by the national broadcaster while in Africa. As well, during his time in Pictou, he wrote two books about working with children in ministry.
About his many different positions and experiences, he says they were: “All fun things to do because they were interesting.”
But for now, he’s happy staying in one place. “I’ve finally settled down for a while,” he says.
Where Are They Now? is a monthly feature that seeks out former newsmakers from Pictou County to find out what they’ve been doing since they first appeared in the newspaper. If there’s someone you would like to find out about, please submit their name to Sueann Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Carol Dunn is a freelance writer, and former newspaper reporter and editor, who lives in New Glasgow.