- 1928 - Born
Margaret Quigley is a fascinating, articulate and candid woman, who served 41 years in diaconal ministry, primarily in Ontario and Quebec.[i] In retirement, she maintains her Deaconess identity and has a keen sense of the changes that have taken place since she graduated from the United Church Training School in 1953.
Margaret was born at home in Toronto on March 30, 1928, to parents Mary Evelyn (Wilson) Quigley of Sheridan, Ontario and Robert Campbell Quigley, a police officer who emigrated from Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She was educated at the Toronto Normal School and attended Simpson Avenue United Church, West Hill United, and Sheridan United with her family. She speaks of first feeling called to be a Christian, and then considered how best to live out this experience. Her experiences in leadership at many Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT) summer camps and with youth groups opened her to the concept that Christianity was more than just sitting in the pew, and she longed to work with CGIT full time. Although she had not grown up knowing other Deaconesses, one whom she met through her camping experience sparked an interest in this form of ministry.
Margaret, in her early twenties, was working as an elementary school teacher in Scarborough with 55 grade five and six students in an old munitions plant-turned-emergency housing called GECO (after the General Electric Company). The residence and school served families who had been evicted from homes in Toronto; however, even at GECO, some were thrown out for not making rent. Margaret was one of 5 novice teachers who were offered positions at GECO, for the needs were great. This exposure to Toronto’s poverty and its complications was an eye opener. Realizing that she enjoyed the children but wasn’t cut out as a disciplinarian, she began to imagine other possibilities for her life. Church work, and the dream of working with groups like CGIT, came to prominence in her imagination.
When Margaret first approached the United Church Training School in Toronto about entering their Deaconess program, they required her to get her permanent teacher’s license, and then return to see them. This was customary at the time, as entrants were expected to be at least 23 years of age and have either a degree or an established career. Her family and community never dissuaded her from going into church work – and some even cheered her on heartily – but there were many warnings that it didn’t pay well and she should expect poverty. Deaconesses were poorly paid, even by church wage standards, a situation that was not adequately addressed until the early 1980s, even though it had been articulated within years of the Order being established in 1894!
Completing the requirements after two more years of teaching, Margaret, now old enough, enrolled in the United Church Training School in 1951. Her eyes were opened again to a whole new world of people and faith. She relished her studies, particularly of the Old Testament as well as the Synoptic Gospels taught by Jean Hutchison, who used the Sharman Method. (Jean photo and bio) This method focused on asking the right question and listening insightfully as classmates worked out their own answers; a training not only in Biblical understanding but in teaching techniques. She was also enriched by the fellowship and diversity of students she lived and roomed with, especially Oo Chung Lee from Korea and Rebecca Varkey from India. This experience broadened her understanding of both the world and the Christian church. Likewise, the staff at UCTS were key figures in Margaret’s development, and were stalwart supports when her faith was shaken:
I can remember one time talking with [Principal] Harriet Christie as I struggled with the truth of the stories of the virgin birth. I was really, really upset. She’s listening intently, and I’m crying. And as we talk she pulls open her desk drawer and there’s a Kleenex just waiting for me. So, thought I- I must remember– always keep Kleenex in your top desk drawer. The deep truth of the virgin birth story became clearer AND I also learned something of the practicalities of dealing with distraught people.
Margaret also recalls, in her second year at the Training school, the impact of Katharine Hockin, who had just returned from China, and the many discussions students had with her, both casually and as teacher. Katharine had returned reluctantly, only because the civil unrest in China made it unsafe for the missionaries to remain. A revolution in understanding of overseas missionary and evangelistic work from “saving their little souls” to working with people in whatever capacity, as well-diggers, agriculturists, teachers, etc. was gained by the students. (Harriet Christie and Katharine Hockin photo)
On a lighter note from her days at UCTS, Margaret remembers singing many ‘seriously silly’ songs produced by one classmate or another as well as the fun stories they shared, to break the tension of faith and academic struggles (Tajar Tales by Jane Shaw Ward and The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi). (Margaret with classmates)
The spring of 1953 was eventful: graduation, followed by her designation by Toronto Conference as a Deaconess and acceptance of the position of Deaconess at First United in Truro, Nova Scotia launched Margaret on her new career. Her work concentrated in Christian Education – youth programs such as CGIT and children’s educational ministry. Margaret lamented though a disconnect from the rest of the congregation and the Sunday service. In fact, her first Christmas there, she was told that she could ‘go home’ for the holidays because she didn’t really need to be there, despite her impression that Christmas is an important event in the Christian Church calendar for both adults and children. This was the first of many experiences over the years where Margaret was surprised by the disregard and misunderstanding by clergy or the congregation of the roll a Deaconess/Diaconal Minister[ii] plays in a congregation; an experience which she would eventually in some situations challenge or respond to strategically. For instance, while at the Annual Meeting of Maritime Conference (~1954), Margaret spoke as the representative of the large number of Deaconesses present, in objection to a pattern in which the Chair of the Deaconess Committee, a male ordained minister, was the one reporting to Conference on behalf of the Deaconesses. Deaconesses had limited access to the Courts of the church, even where the decisions directly affected their work. At this time, a Deaconess could only be a voting member at Presbytery or Conference if appointed as a lay representative from her congregation. Many of the women were reluctant to accept that position, wanting instead for lay people to have the representation that was intended. Deaconesses were in an in between position; not recognized as ministers, yet clearly not in the same situation as lay members of the congregation. In 1964, membership in Presbytery was granted to the women, in 1977 Deaconesses became “Commissioned Ministers”, short lived, as in 1982 the Order of Diaconal Ministers was formed, recognizing the women, and their male counterparts of Certified Churchmen, fully as “ministers”.
After 2 years in Truro, Margaret moved to Montréal and worked for 10 years, from 1955-65, with the Quebec Council of Christian Education; an independent coalition of 5 Protestant denominations and the YMCA. She developed a personal fondness for Montréal and the people she worked and camped with there. This was still the heyday for programs such as CGIT (rallies, Conferences, Graduations, Camps), Quebec Older Boys Parliament (Christmas Session held in the Quebec Parliament Legislature), Explorers, and of course Sunday School, and she travelled throughout the province working with individual congregations or area groups. During her time with the Council, Margaret also made inroads into ecumenical collaboration with the Catholic Church. This experience enticed her to go back to school to complete a BA in Sociology at McMaster University, in anticipation of possibly doing national-level work of this nature. However, instead, she launched herself into a new form of ministry as an Assistant Superintendent in the Ontario youth correctional system.
The next two years were spent at the Kawartha Lakes School for Girls in Lindsay and at a subsidiary institution for younger girls at Port Bolster, many of whom had been deemed “incorrigible”. This was challenging and fascinating work which she enjoyed, but the arrival of a new superintendent totally changed the working atmosphere and program philosophy and she went searching for new fields.
Chalmers’ United in Kingston, Ontario would be the next step. Returning to congregational ministry in 1969, after nearly fifteen years, Margaret began to notice significant changes in the role of Deaconesses. This was not uniform across all congregations, but with the advent of Certified Churchmen entering diaconal ministry, feminist liberation advances, class consciousness, and changes in the approach to foreign mission work, she noted a significant increase in role flexibility and creative leeway. Margaret took pastoral care courses at Queens Theological College and became more heavily involved in that aspect of ministry. She was also invited to preach and take on liturgical leadership, in addition to her Christian Education responsibilities, as encouraged by one particular ordained colleague, Rev. Stan Lucyk. Her role was still distinct, which she understood as “To serve the people” – working with them to do what was needed, and being aware of the needs of other people and doing what one can to help.
There was also progress towards a team ministry model in which tasks could be negotiated and there was room for Margaret to expand her repertoire of ministry skills as she felt called to do. This chapter of her ministry included similar positions in Owen Sound, Brampton, Markham, and Alliston until her retirement in 1994 to Scarborough and subsequently to Kingston. This stream was diverted briefly for two years between Brampton and Markham, when Margaret worked as a nanny for an ordained female friend with three children who had just left her husband and wished to return to congregational ministry near Peterborough, Ontario.
Fellowship has been important to Margaret since her own CGIT camp days, through both her schooling and her ministry years. Margaret relished the opportunity to connect with others in diaconal ministry, and participated in countless conferences and assemblies locally, nationally and internationally. One woman who particularly inspired her when they talked at Deaconess Biennials was Stella Burry; a Deaconess from Newfoundland who ran the Home for Girls Away from Home in St John’s. While she believes that Deaconesses becoming members of the church courts in 1964 was an important step in recognition and accountability, but Margaret notes that it also served to dismantle many of the diaconal support networks. Deaconesses were expected to then turn to their Presbytery for fellowship and camaraderie, but sadly found many were lacking in this, as they were run through a business model dominated by ordained men. Margaret believes that very little has actually changed in the wider church’s view of the diaconate. It is still a struggle to be recognized as a unique and equally valid form of ministry and call. She continues to find opportunities for fellowship, bible study and spirituality groups, even if she is no longer often in a leadership position. (Margaret in 2003)
For Margaret, “the important role that deacon[ess]s have to play is right where you are, ” and she understands diaconal ministry to be centered on supporting all people to be in ministry together. Her ministry has taken many forms in many places; congregational and organizational, educational, pastoral care, direct teaching and advocacy. She continues to offer wisdom to students, colleagues, and small group members at the local spirituality centre and her home congregation of Chalmers United in Kingston, Ontario, and is an inspiration to those whom she meets.
This biography was written by Marcie Gibson for an assignment at the Centre for Christian Studies, Winnipeg, December 2012. Additional information and editing by Caryn Douglas.
For a pdf version click here.