Laura Pearl Gallagher-Doucette, who graduated on May 12, 2022, is this year's winner of the Sanford Gold Medal in Divinity. The late Senator W.E. Sanford created this award for students "on the basis of the standing obtained over the whole course and the judgement of the Senate as to the scholarship, ability and character of the candidate."
EC Connects reached out to Gallagher-Doucette and about her time at Emmanuel and her future plans.
EC: What were you doing before you started studying at Emmanuel?
GD: I was working at Toronto Metropolitan University as an assistant to a friend from my congregation, Dr. Colin Phillips, in the School of Social Work, which I continued do to throughout the first half of my Master of Divinity (MDiv). I was also immersed in creative work, studying creative writing through a program at Humber College and making theatre and poetry with collaborators from my first degree (which was a Combined Honours in Theatre Studies and Early Modern Studies from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia).
I had a few other odds and ends on the go, but those were two of my main occupations!
EC: You graduated on May 12 with an MDiv… and you are this year’s recipient of the Sanford Gold Medal in Divinity. Congratulations! What led you to choose Emmanuel College?
GD: That’s a great question! For this one, I truly need to thank the congregation where I hold my membership, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice, and the Arts (TSP). It’s a congregation with robust lay leadership and many congregants with theological degrees, including professors (and some former principals!) from Emmanuel as well as people who work for the United Church in various capacities. That, along with TSP’s geographic proximity to the college, meant that Emmanuel came up not infrequently, so it’s always been on my radar!
When I began to discern my call to ministry, Emmanuel seemed like the place to go, not only because of its great faculty and its commitment to interreligious community, but also because I sensed it would be a good fit for me because of the overlap between the two communities. To a certain extent, I felt like I knew Emmanuel before I arrived.
EC: What are a couple of highlights for you while studying at Emmanuel?
GD: Two courses I need to name as highlights are Contextual Education and my experience writing a thesis this past year, both experiences which have helped me feel prepared for ministry.
Contextual Education was a highlight because it was a chance to apply the theoretical learning of my studies to the practice of congregational ministry. My site placement was at St. Matthew’s United Church under the mentorship of Rev. Lauren Hodgson, which was a tremendously valuable experience. St. Matthew’s and Lauren created a fantastic learning environment for me – I felt fully embraced by the community and affirmed in my learning and ministry, even as I was encouraged to move deeper into my faith and call. Thank you, St. Matt’s and Lauren!
Writing a thesis was a highlight because it allowed me to sink into a piece of scholarship over an entire year of reading and writing–though it still felt like a mad dash at the end! My project considered the ways in which the United Church of Canada’s specifically Canadian commitments, including the country and denomination’s narratives of progress through social justice, complicates its attempts at solidarity with Indigenous peoples practicing decolonization.
That project had me feeling for the shape of a Christian praxis less contingent on progress over time and more centered on justice in place. Unsurprisingly, I finished the piece with more questions than answers, but I feel that’s a useful posture for ministry, especially for a white settler like myself. I’m extremely grateful to Rev. Dr. Natalie Wigg-Stevenson and Rev. Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg for encouraging me to be expansive in my thinking and to keep narrowing my writing to an ever-more reasonable scope!
Beyond academics, another highlight of my time at Emmanuel was attending the weekly worship services and offering worship leadership as a member of the spiritual life team. It felt very important to join in gatherings that brought the college together spiritually. I was grateful for the creativity that went into ensuring we could continue to gather for worship virtually and for the chance to learn how to lead worship online.
EC: What challenge(s) and/or surprise(s) did you face/experience during the pandemic as a student?
GD: I’d be remiss not to mention Zoom anywhere in this interview! That said, I’d frame the time spent on Zoom as both a challenge and a surprisingly positive experience. On the one hand, I found long days online tiring. On the other, I commend the community for committing to creating places for genuine connection and intimacy online. I didn’t dream that such rich academic and spiritual experiences would be possible to achieve remotely when my studies went virtual at the end of my first year.
And while studying during the pandemic involved tangible losses, I believe that learning to do ministry in a time of curveballs demanded adaptiveness and groundedness that will continue to serve me well.
EC: What are your plans for the future?
GD: In September, I will begin full-time Supervised Ministry Education at Runnymede United Church. I’ve been serving as Runnymede’s engagement and growth leader part-time since last August and I’m excited to deepen my relationships and offer a broader range of skills to that community as my role expands.
In terms of artistic work, my collaborators and I, who go under the name of Probably Theatre Collective, are excited for our upcoming project, This Inescapable City, funded by the Canada Council the Arts, which will debut this autumn as digital and in-person installations. We’ll be supporting and curating the work of artists from across the country for that piece, exploring poetic confluences of water and time… so stay tuned for that!
God willing, my hope is to be ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada. I look forward to serving Christian communities in whatever creative ways the Spirit opens up. And, as someone who is a student at heart, I do anticipate further study in my future.