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Monday 08 November 2010

Obituary: Rev Don Mence

Posted in: Community, Features
By Don McMorland - 22nd October 2010

Rev Don Mence
The Rev Don Mence (22 January 1933 to 25 September 2010) has died peacefully at his home in Te Aroha. Don will be well known to many people, especially from the Waikato north through the North Island, in the gay community and in the Presbyterian and other Christian communities throughout the country. Don lived through the period of gay liberation and the formation of a gay community in our society. As a gay man, particularly in a sensitive vocation, coming out fully was a gradual process, though he was quite open in the later years of his life. Don was also a family man, married to Nan, his wife of over 50 years, and a father to Ron, Peter and Ann.

He saw his role to build a bridge between the two worlds of the gay community and the church. He had the courage, at a time when it was a great deal harder than it is now, to be himself, to work for inclusiveness in the church and to do what he could to influence the attitude of the church towards us. In later years he was a senior member of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church who spoke for us during the debates in that Assembly concerning the Church's attitude to gay people in society and to gay clergy within the Church.

He also took that aspect of his life into the congregation he was serving at any given time. Especially in his later years, none would not have known that he was a gay man in their midst. He showed people in the congregation, by his own life and example, what it is to be a gay man today and helped in that way to broaden their understanding and acceptance of gay people, not only in their congregation, but also in their wider community.

In the other direction he brought the church into our community. He played a significant role for a number of years in the Auckland Community Church over a period beginning about 35 years ago. That is a congregation which still meets every week in St Matthews in Auckland. It has brought, and still brings great comfort, support and guidance to many people. On a more personal level, he took the pastoral side of his life into the our community and gave immensely valuable and valued help in whatever way he could to many people through their problems in life, some very serious. Don lived the gay and the Christian aspects of his life in a full, open and integrated way, of great benefit to both sides. He acted with integrity, courage and love.

Another important aspect of Don's life was in the world of amateur dramatics. Wherever he lived, he was involved, initially in acting, and then in directing, plays for a local dramatic society. He took his gay life into that world also, including in the writing, and then producing and directing, of a trilogy of plays around the lives of a set of characters, some gay, some religious. These took the message of gay people, their lives and their problems, into the wider community, not just of those involved in the production of the plays, but of the audiences who saw them.

As well as the more serious side of his life, Don had other interests, especially in boats and classic cars. He was a wonderful friend and had a great sense of humour. I recall one occasion many years ago when he was taking a small ceremony, attended only by gay men, at the Cenotaph outside the War Memorial Museum. It was a blustery, cold evening. Don was wearing a full length cloak over his clerical vestments. All was going well when the wind got under the cloak and whipped it over his head. After he had fought his way out, to much laughter from those watching, he said: “That was God telling me to shut up.” The service was over.

As someone, a friend of Don's from the drama world, wrote about him, "his courageous spirit will live on to inspire and motivate us and he has left a heritage to be proud of both to his family and the gay scene. He wasn't afraid to be proactive in taking the gay message out into the community, especially with his plays, and he led the way for better understanding and tolerance. He will be sadly missed in so many places."

- Don McMorland

Don McMorland - 22nd October 2010

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