Sharon Lynne Davis was born in Regina on May 10, 1946 and adopted by the Davis family shortly after. She grew up in the Saskatchewan towns of Spy Hill and Rocanville where her dad was the principal of the school and her mom was a home-maker. She had two older siblings, Aileen and Wray, and an adopted sister Diane, whom she was very close to. She did search out her biological family as an adult, but no lasting relationships developed.
As noted by long time friend Joan Robertson in Sharon’s eulogy:
“During the last year Sharon has been reminiscing a lot about her family. She talked about how blessed she felt to have been chosen by a wonderful, loving family … She talked about how close in age she was to her nephew Ken and niece Judy – they grew up like brothers and sisters. Sharon loved to be involved with children and was proud that her sister Diane’s grandchildren would call her Gramma Sharon.“
Sharon attended Rocanville school for both elementary and high school from 1952 – 1964, and then spent a year working as a secretary for Russell Foods. Her childhood passions and hobbies, which extended throughout her lifetime, were reading and music. As an adult she did beautiful cross-stitch and each of her friends and family have a needlepoint picture which she personalized with the receiver in mind.
There was always a church connection in her life. Her mother took her to the Pentecostal church a child, but Sharon started going to the United Church with her father when she was a little older. She played the organ in the Rocanville United Church from about the age of 10 or 11.
Call to Diaconal Ministry
Sharon stated her call to ministry came as a complete surprise and she chose the diaconal stream because that is where women were “steered” at that time rather than into ordained ministry. Former classmate Barbara Ann Bryant Anstie remembers, “I met Sharon for the first time in the early summer of 1968, when 3 potential Deaconess candidates, all from Saskatchewan, were invited to lunch by the United Church Women in Regina.” Sharon Lynne (as she went by then), Susan Skene and Barbara Ann were each presented a bursary in the amount of $900.00 per year for each of two years of the program. “That bursary paid our room and board in the Anglican United College (formerly Covenant College) Residence.”
Sharon graduated from The Anglican United College, in 1970, in the first class of the new school, created by the merger of Covenant College and the Anglican Women’s Training College. In the fall of 1970 it was named The Centre for Christian Studies.
On June 2, 1970 Sharon, along with Susan and Barbara Ann, was designated a Deaconess by Saskatchewan Conference. An article in the Regina Leader Post, announcing their designation explained for readers what it means to be a deaconess: “The women stressed that they are not ordained but rather designated. The Deaconess Order is a separate ministry … The order is basically for Christian Education, said the women.” The article further explained that being a deaconess is for life, and allows them participation in the decision making bodies of the church, a professional status and a pension. The last sentence reveals some of the attitudes about women at the time, “One thing they were quick to point out is that being a deaconess does not restrict their personal freedom.” That proved to be true for Sharon who was a lesbian.
Sharon began her career as Director of Christian Education at Collier Street United Church in Barrie, Ontario. She also served as a chaplain at the women’s prison in Kingston, Ontario. She remained in Ontario for two years before returning to Saskatchewan in 1972 to the Turtle River Larger Parish in Battleford Presbytery. 1973 to 1975 she served as part of the Battleford Presbytery Staff in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
From 1976 to 1979, Sharon served the Pheasant Creek Larger Parish, centred in Balcarres, Saskatchewan in Yorkton Presbytery. This was a six-point pastoral charge which included Balcarres, Abernethy, Lorlie, Duff, Lemberg and what was then known as the File Hills Reserve which was comprised of Pepeeksis, Okanese, Star Blanket and Little Black Bear First Nations.
It was here that she worked in team ministry with Reverend Brian Walton. He remembers,
“I was ordained in 1977 and settled in a six-point pastoral charge that had a long-standing team ministry. When I arrived on the charge, my new teammate, Sharon Davis, had already been working in the charge for some time. She was most welcoming and adamant that there was a strong tradition of teaming and that we would be working as a team. In this setting the interpretation of team was that we would both perform the same ministry tasks. She was insistent that there be no distinction between her ‘status’ as a diaconal minister [deaconess] and me as an ordained person. Over the years that we worked together she was insistence in not being treated as ‘second class’ by the pastoral charge in relation to her ministry status or her gender. These were legitimate concerns although I don’t think I fully appreciated them at the time.
It was this time that the feminist movement was just gaining momentum in the church and Sharon was clearly a feminist. Although I supported inclusive language and other pro-feminist positions Sharon was tenacious in her support for women’s rights. She tenaciously advocated for justice for women, women in ministry and diaconal women.”
Friend Danna Armstrong also noted,
“She became very active in women’s rights and felt passionate about women in the church being recognized as equal to ordained men in ministry teams … and ordained women for that matter.”
Sharon passionately defended human rights, supporting and advocating for the marginalized. World events that caught her attention were LGBTQ2 rights, the pro-choice movement, and the dismantling of apartheid.
Gift of Music
One cannot speak about Sharon with out highlighting her musical gift. Music was a thread that wound through all of her life. There was always music at home when Sharon was growing up…it was an essential part of her.
Classmate Barbara Ann recalls,
“Sharon had amazing skills on the piano. The rule in the residence was that it was to be quiet in the evening, after supper, until 10:00 pm. Then we would all gather in the second floor Common Room for toast and hot chocolate. Sharon would sit down at the piano and play by ear, she would make those keys dance, the room would rock. … I do remember one song, it was a favourite of the graduating class of 1970. It related to the “Death of God Theology” popular in the late sixties. The words are: ‘Keep the rumor going that God is alive, Keep the rumor that God is alive. Keep the rumor going, spread it far and wide. God is alive. God is alive. God is alive today.’”
One day, when Sharon was working in Bethune, Saskatchewan, she heard a knock on the manse door. When she opened it, there on her doorstep was a group of women with coffee cups in hand enjoying the concert. “If you’re going to play the piano open the door so we can all hear you play.”
Brian Walton remembers, “Sharon was recognized as an extremely good musician – although she would sometimes downplay this latter ability believing that if she was seen to be a musician, she would be less recognized as a minister.”
Sharon provided the music for Banff Men’s and Women’s Conferences as well as for Saskatchewan Conference Annual Meetings. She used her music with women’s groups, youth groups, CGIT, dinner theatres and numerous choirs. She loved every music genre and if the words of the hymn were grating, she always enjoyed the musical score. Joan Robertson commented, “During the years we were fighting for recognition of women in ministry Sharon was part of a group called ‘The Good-time Women’s Renaissance, Ragtime and Boogie Band.’ When Sharon would slip into the sanctuary and play she was truly rockin’ the rafters. Up until the last month of her life she was still able to tickle the ivories and play her partner’s favourite, ‘Hymn to Freedom’.”
As the church changed in its understanding of diaconal ministry, Sharon moved from being a Deaconess to a Commissioned Minister. That is the title she had in 1980 when she moved to Zion and St. Andrews’ United Churches in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In 1984, further changes in the church meant she became a Diaconal Minister, and a became a member of the Order of Ministry. She was recognized as an extremely competent worship leader. Sharon loved a good story – and she was the consummate storyteller. Seldom was there a sermon without a thought provoking story slipped in to ponder. Sharon’s worship services were always creative and inclusive. She did not need to have centre stage or control what was happening. She really believed in the ministry of the laity.
Sharon’s theology was inclusive. In her speech to Saskatchewan Conference in 1999 she was urging the church to move toward renewal and new life, not to be stuck in the past or fall into a downward death spiral. She said, “It is no longer good enough to wish we were like we use to be. We aren’t and we never will be. But we are who we are, and that is more than good enough, because God has said that, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” Not male ordained flesh. Not white flesh. Not heterosexual flesh. I will pour out my spirit on all flesh: on women and men, on people of colour and on white people, on all flesh, on children and on elders, on francophones and anglos, on those who wear turbans and those who wear stetsons … This is the vision on which our church was built.”
Brian Walton recalls,
“Sharon and I alternated weekly worship going to three of the six points each Sunday. This division of labour was the most logical and easily accepted by the parishioners. There was a particularly difficult funeral while I was there in which a young child of about ten was killed in a car accident. Sharon responded immediately to this family and her experience and natural gifts resulted in very good care for the family both in the funeral and subsequently.”
Danna Armstrong recalls,
“Sharon was amazing at funerals and baptisms – and all the pastoral care those both involved. She really loved people (especially babies) and she wanted to know what you were thinking and what made you tick!”
In 1990 Sharon left Moose Jaw to serve in team ministry in the congregation of St. James United Church and then at Lakeview United Church, both in Regina. During her time at St. James, she was proud of the congregation becoming an Affirming Congregation, just 10 years after the 1988 decision of the United Church to accept gay and lesbian people into ministry. She wrote, “I has been a long, diligent and faithful struggle for our congregation to come to this point.” As a lesbian in ministry, it was a tremendous affirmation of her.
Sharon loved her congregants and her mentorship ability with both family, friends and colleagues was evident in the stories they told about her. Danna Armstrong recalls, “Sharon was a great mentor and teacher – I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it hadn’t been for her encouraging me to participate in worship leadership with her at St. James, then allowing me to “shadow her through funerals” when I began my first ministry appointment. But I was only allowed to shadow for the first funeral and after that – get in there and participate. When she moved to Calgary her boxes and boxes of books made it to my bookshelves. When my daughter Ashley was a teenager – Sharon sweet-talked her into playing the piano at St. James when the organist was on holidays. That encouragement led to Ashley eventually sharing in the music leadership here at St. James on a fulltime basis. Sharon left her piano to Ashley’s daughter, Madison, so the mentoring continues to another generation even after her death.”
And from Barbara Ann, “After graduation we lost touch. We connected again in about the autumn of 1977. Sharon was instrumental to my return to ministry. After an unhappy experience in my first position, I took further studies in Early Childhood Education and worked for a few years in that field. I attended a wonderful event for women at Prairie Christian Training Centre, in Fort Qu’Appelle. I remember that we broke into small groups and stayed with that group for discussion for the weekend. At the end of the weekend, our small group decided to continue to meet together, every month or so. Sharon was in my small group. [Months later] Sharon and I had supper together, and she asked if I had ever considered returning to ministry. We talked long into the evening. … Sharon’s encouragement is the main reason that I returned to ministry.”
Wider Church Work
Sharon was known to be an able administrator and in addition to providing good administration for the pastoral charge, she was involved in many Presbytery and Conference committees. In the early 1990’s Sharon was Chair of Saskatchewan Conference and chaired the Presbytery Education and Students Committee. In 1998 she was Conference President, and during that year visited all 10 of the Presbyteries and attended almost uncountable meetings, including the Conference’s Brief to the Provincial Government.
Danna Armstrong said, “Sharon enjoyed ministry but not the politics involved. She was honest, up front, “say it like it is” kind of person. You always knew where you stood with Sharon – if she was annoyed with you – she told you why! This led to stress and disillusionment with ministry as she got older.”
Gift of Humour
Laughter was central to Sharon’s personality and she possessed a huge “belly laugh”. Her favourite scripture was the Genesis passage “Sarah laughed” …and that never changed over time.
Joan Roberston reminisces, “When Sharon and I turned 60 we bought red hats…not to join the Red Hat society but as an acknowledgement that we could still get into mischief. She bought me a sign that said, “Life is not a journey to the grave with intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride”.
Jackie, Sharon’s partner, met her when she began working for the Conference office. Sharon was the liaison person between Conference Executive and staff. So, on Jackie’s second day of work Sharon trudged up the stairs of the old Conference Offices above the paint store wearing 2 knee braces, wrist braces and using canes. She plopped down on the chair in front of Jackie’s desk and said, “So, how are you finding it so far?”
Danna Armstrong remembers, “Sharon, Jackie and I had just finished planning a cruise to Alaska for the three of us – and my husband Bob was invited too!! After Sharon got tired of Bob’s unending questions she said, “Bob, you do the dishes, we’ll do the planning!”
Her amazing sense of humor carried her through many difficult times during her illness. She always appreciated the care she received from the medical staff – and even joked with them in emergency prior to her final surgery.
In 2004 Sharon was unable to continue in active ministry and was retained on the roll due to disability by Wascana Presbytery, until she retired in 2010. She and Jackie moved to Calgary. She passed away on July 26th, 2017.
Sharon had suffered with arthritis and asthma since her 30’s. One of her personal challenges in ministry was her health and the on-going struggle for support from the church structure. At that time “partial disability” which she needed, did not exist and it was a long struggle before she was able to attain it. She was a person who also set very high standards for herself which became more difficult to achieve and eventually contributed to burned out at the end of her ministry. The health supports she could have benefited from where just not available. She found support in family, her friends, music and from a love of her work in the church.
No matter what the project – church, community, or family, Sharon lived life with amazing joy, energy and determination. Sharon was a true friend to many and cherished her friendships.
It is fitting that I end this profile with the thoughts of her close friend Danna Armstrong, “Sharon had the gift to put people at ease – if she chose to – or make you squirm if she needed to. When she married Bob and me – she timed our kiss – and said – that’s enough!! As we look back on the times Sharon shared our tears, laughed with us, brought music to our lives, shared her faith …in all these times we can say, “Yes, here was the spark of God’s love at work.”
This biography was written in November 2018 by J. Keith Hall as part of an assignment at The Centre for Christian Studies. (Further editing by Caryn Douglas)
At the time he wrote: I am honoured and profoundly grateful for the opportunity to offer this profile on Sharon Davis’s life in diaconal ministry. As I studied the information provided me, I was overwhelmingly struck by the presence of those like Sharon who have gone before us, those who created the space for diaconal ministry to be what it is in the United Church today. I hope I have done Sharon’s story the justice it so richly deserves.
I wish to gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Sharon’s partner Jackie Staples, friends Danna Armstrong and Joan Robertson, classmate Barbara Ann Bryant Anstie, and colleague Brian Walton in the preparation of this profile.