The Rev. Claudette Taylor is an educator, a deacon at Epiphany and St. Mark, Parkdale and the Social Justice Officer for York-Credit Valley.
At Epiphany and St. Mark, I’m working in collaboration with the incumbent and parish leaders to develop actions that are measurable and lifegiving, both in the short and long term, to address systemic racism in our practices. The goal is to ensure that anyone entering our church community will recognize liturgical practices that make them feel part of the body of Christ and no longer strangers. I’m also trying to find ways to educate all parishioners about issues happening outside of the church that call us to be good neighbours. This may involve exploring further partnerships with Parkdale organizations that are already engaged in this type of work.
As a member of the West Toronto Deanery, I am working with other deacons and some laypersons on a monthly series of films and activities regarding reconciliation with Indigenous people. The aim is to hear from Indigenous leaders and provide resources to further inform clergy and lay members on colonial and racist practices against Indigenous people. A measurable result will be demonstrated when, as followers of Jesus Christ, parishes collaborate to take action on implementing some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.
As an educator, the best part of my job is to be able to see the transformation of another human being as they develop their skills and competencies and realize their true potential. The worst part is when, for whatever reason, the personal challenges are barriers to reaching their full potential. The best part of being a deacon is seeing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in lives. The worst part is when we construct barriers that prevent people from experiencing God’s grace.
I am married and have two adult children and two grandchildren – first- and second-generation Canadians. I was born in Belmont, Trinidad, West Indies. I was privileged to obtain a five-year scholarship to Bishop Anstey High School (also called St. Hilary’s), the major Anglican girls’ secondary school in Trinidad. As well, on successful completion of O levels at Bishop Anstey’s, I was awarded an additional two-year scholarship. After completing and obtaining all A levels (Oxford and Cambridge examinations), I entered university to study economics and statistics. Upon completion, I was hired into a position of responsibility at the Ministry of Planning and Development. With the intention of using the skills and knowledge acquired in my home country, and of adding further study to these skills and knowledge, I immigrated to Canada.
As is the case of many immigrants, I was unable to obtain a job in my field. Lack of Canadian experience, youth and overqualification was cited for this. I worked for a year to save some money and then attended the University of Toronto and OISE and completed a Bachelor of Education specializing in business. My employment as an educator has been with the York Region Board of Education, The Fraser Valley School District in British Columbia, and eventually the Peel Board of Education, where I became a head of business. At present, I do contract work in adult education with the Peel Board. As a continuous learner, I have studied at Trinity College, the University of Toronto and continue to further my studies in theology.
When I arrived in Canada, I was fortunate to eventually attend St. Mark the Evangelist Church, where the Rev. Canon Dr. Graham Cotter was the incumbent. I believe that my recognition of the importance of social justice in the life of a Christian was further nurtured here. The next priest who contributed to my spiritual growth was the Rev. Canon Michael Burgess, who always reminded the congregation that God loves each one of us as if there was no other to love. In addition, he encouraged us to give to God what he is worth. This included time and talent. He was so convincing that I remained his churchwarden for over 12 years. It was during that time that the idea of becoming a deacon developed. It took almost 14 years to answer the call, long after Canon Burgess had left Epiphany and St. Mark, Parkdale. The Rev. Ken Borrett, who loved working with the marginalized, encouraged me to become an Ambassador of Reconciliation in the diocese. During this time, I was fortunate to be mentored by the Rev. Canon Andrew Wesley, the Indigenous Priest for the Diocese of Toronto, who quietly guided me as I learned about the relationship between the Indigenous peoples of this land and settlers. As a visible minority, I saw parallel experiences in my experiences as a Black person. I know that there is much to be learned from Indigenous teachings.
Five years from now, I hope to be continuing the work of reconciliation among marginalized people in an environment where all actions of the church community are guided by mutual respect.
If you had asked me what my favourite passage from scripture was before the pandemic or even at the start, I would have given you one passage. But over the last six months, I have found that I have several favourites that comfort me in these trying times. One of them is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This passage speaks to my understanding of Jesus’ message to us to be even more concerned about the marginalized. Here is another favourite: “Be still and know that I am God.” This grounds me when I am overwhelmed. Finally, there is this: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This assures me that God loves us more than we can ask or imagine. In my dealings with others, I can remember God’s love and grace.