Life after the sky has fallen in

By on February 1, 2001

Rev. Boyd greets a parishioner after church

Toronto

REV. MICHAEL Boyd was sitting at his dining room table on a bright, sunny September day in 1998, thumbing through the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. He expected the day to be much like any other in the quiet, picturesque town of Hantsport, N.S., in the Annapolis Valley.

He had been parish priest there for 16 years. He felt contented, as he turned the pages. And then the sky fell in.

The Boyd family was well known in the community. His parents, lifelong Baptists, lived 15 kilometres down the road. His father had managed the nearby Sobey’s supermarket for 30 years. Another brother, one of eight siblings, was a Baptist minister in Halifax. It was a close family.

Hantsport is the smallest incorporated town in Canada. Mr. Boyd knew just about everybody, and just about everybody knew him. He had presided over weddings, funerals, church suppers and parish council meetings.

Looking back, Mr. Boyd, now 49, thinks those roots and connections are what sustained him when the bottom dropped out of his world.

The ordeal began as Mr. Boyd read in the newspaper that he had been charged with indecently assaulting a former altar boy in the late 1970s in Brooklyn and Digby, N.S. The charges were published along with those against another Anglican priest, the former Rev. Wayne Lynch of Halifax.

(Mr. Lynch, who has since left the priesthood, pleaded guilty and resigned his orders in 1999.)

For Mr. Boyd, the outcome was different. Charges against him were eventually dropped last spring. This was followed by an internal investigation ordered by the archbishop, under diocesan policy, which, in December, recommended his reinstatement as rector.

Between that awful September day in 1998 and reinstatement, was a hellish journey.

Mr. Boyd was asked by Archbishop Arthur Peters to step down as priest, and told by the archbishop that all contact between them must end until the matter was cleared up.

For 26 months, Mr. Boyd lived in suspended animation, neither convicted, nor exonerated, neither innocent nor guilty.

In a recent interview, he said his initial reaction to the newspaper story was numbness. Then the adrenalin kicked in. “I felt sick and horrified.”

After a visit to his doctor, Mr. Boyd called his parents, both in their seventies. A brother had already called them. By the end of the day, the charges were broadcast over the radio.

His parents stood by him as he knew they would. “I practically moved in with them for a while,” Mr. Boyd, who is single, said.

“I needed time with my family. They needed to see that I was all right and I needed to see that they were all right, too.”

“People think, oh, is he going to commit suicide? Frankly, it didn’t cross my mind. I relied on my firm belief in my innocence, and I knew that and my faith would sustain me. I never once felt bitter. I would never let anyone or any situation take my life away. Even if it had destroyed my profession, even if the parish had said, ‘no, we don’t want him back’ I would have pushed ahead.”

The weather began to get colder, and Mr. Boyd said he knew it was time to go back to his church as a parishioner. Instead of the awkwardness or distancing one might have expected, Mr. Boyd says his first Sunday back was wonderful. “They knew me,” he said of his parishioners. “They did not seem at all alarmed, just concerned for me.”

Over the ensuing months, people continued to call, write cards, and drop in to show their support.

Surprisingly, Mr. Boyd said he never heard one doubting or accusatory word over the whole time he waited to see if the Crown would go ahead with its case against him.

How did he pass the time? “It was hard, not being able to function as a priest, to not do the things I knew how to do. I read a lot of books, and of course parish members had to call and ask how things were done so they could carry on without me in that role.”

Most difficult, he said, was being cut off from elderly people who were ill, to have to remove himself as they neared the end of their lives. “That’s when emotions are highest and it’s the best opportunity of offering real support and comfort to people, and I could not do it.”

He never hid. “If people saw they could talk to me about it, it put them more at ease.”

Mr. Boyd said the experience taught him perseverance and patience. Today, he treasures a warm personal letter, written to him from the archbishop, who also attended the Dec. 10 eucharist where the people of Hantsport celebrated Mr. Boyd’s reinstatement as rector.

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