Vancouver's Rev. Gary Paterson has been elected moderator of the United Church of Canada, marking the first time that position has been held by an openly gay person.
Paterson was elected moderator of the United Church after six ballots at its 41st General Council in Ottawa on Friday, Xtra! reported.
As moderator, it will be Paterson's job to provide spiritual leadership and public representation for the church.
"I was humbled by the responsibility and trust that this community of people have placed with me," Paterson told Xtra! in an interview. "I’m just so glad to be in partnership with them so that we do the work that faces us and needs to be done. I’m excited and scared at the same time."
Paterson's election victory was greeted with cheers and a "prolonged standing ovation" from the General Council and delegates voted "quickly" to make the election unanimous, the Ottawa Citizen reported.
Paterson recognized the historic nature of his election but he added that his sexuality was a "non-issue" among the people who voted for him.
"I would suspect that that’s the primary news story," he said at a news conference. "What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma or problem has not, within our immediate community here, been seen that way at all.”
Paterson has headed St. Andrew's-Wesley Church in downtown Vancouver since 2005. His partner is Tim Stevenson, a Vancouver city councillor and former BC NDP cabinet minister who is himself Canada's first openly gay minister.
Paterson said that his election may come as a "surprise" and be "problematic" for many denominations, but he added he's "looking forward" to having conversations, Metro Vancouver reported.
"I’ve often discovered in my own journey that when people are in conversation with a real person, rather than a theoretical construct that is often associated with fear or rumour or prejudice, then they begin to change," he said.
CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this story misspelled Gary Paterson's name as "Gary Peterson." The instances have been corrected.
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