White Rock reverend aims to raise the roof

Church of the Holy Trinity Rev. Neil Gray preparing for three-hour-long fundraising sermon

When Rev. Neil Gray of White Rock’s Church of the Holy Trinity realized his church needed a new roof – at a cost of about $20,000 – he immediately began brainstorming possible ways to come up with the much-needed funds.

A friend in England once needed a new roof for his church, Gray explained, so he got people to sponsor him to skydive – “A parachute jump… I just thought, ‘Well, that’s not me,” he said – while another colleague once collected pledges and ran a marathon in order to raise funds for a church project.

“Well, that’s not me, either,” he laughed. “So I thought about what I could do, and the one thing I can do is talk. I really enjoy preaching and I think I’m pretty good at it, so I thought, ‘Why not do a sponsored sermon?’

Of course, even that idea wasn’t without a minor on-the-fly adjustment.

“I started calling it the world’s longest sermon, but then someone Googled the Guiness Book of Records and it turns out the longest sermon, if you can believe it, is 43 hours. I can’t imagine how you’d do that – there must have been some bathroom breaks in there – so now I’m saying that it’s the longest sermon preached at the Church of the Holy Trinity.”

On Sunday, May 20, Gray – who has been the rector at the White Rock Anglican church since 2003, and has been a priest for 34 years in total – plans to preach for a total of three hours and 20 minutes. Pledges – at a rate of $10 per minute – have been coming in since Gray announced the endeavour a few weeks ago, and about $5,000 has already been raised.

A typical sermon, Gray explained, is about 15 minutes long, and includes both the reading of scripture as well as him explaining and applying it. He knows the upcoming sermon – about 12 times as long as he’s used to – will be difficult, but he’s confident he’ll be able to get through it.

“I’ll be ready with water and throat (lozenges),” he said. “It’ll be a bit of a challenge, but I’m think I’ll be sane and standing at the end.”

No one has to stay for the entire sermon, he said – “People will come and go” – but a member of the church’s governing body, the parish council, will also be in attendance.

“They’ll be there to keep me honest, so I don’t stop talking,” he said.

When he spoke to Peace Arch News on Friday, Gray said he was “about halfway” through his draft of the sermon, and he expected to run through it once ahead of time “for time” before he begins.

The Church of the Holy Trinity first opened its doors in White Rock in 1921 and the building itself – on the corner of Roper Avenue and Foster Street – is more than 50 years old, Gray said. And that heritage, he believes, is important to protect, and is also one of the reasons he suspects so many from the community have been supportive of the upcoming fundraising effort.

“We’re one of the older buidings in White Rock… it’s not York Minster, but for White Rock it’s quite old,” he said. “As well as being our place to worship, it’s a bit of White Rock history, so I think there might be some interest in trying to preserve it.”

Information on Gray’s sermon – including how to make a pledge – can be found at www.holytrinitywhiterock.org

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