Rick Gunn’s journey to Bedford United Church was a calling.
It was 2002, and Gunn was working at Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth at a temporary position as a part-time interim youth minister. He applied for a full-time minister job, but didn’t get it.
That’s when Bedford United came calling, after hearing about Gunn’s work through the grapevine. Gunn met with David Hart, the lead minister at Bedford United, and was eventually hired on as the minister for children, youth, and young adults.
“I am really glad it worked out that way,” Gunn says. “Bedford United is a really great fit for me. The way they talk about God, the way they think about being together as a Christian community is modern, inclusive. As an openly gay minister, that’s obviously really important. That wasn’t even a question for them.”
When he first started, Gunn says he was told to do whatever he thought would be great for the church’s children and teens. He expanded on a pre-existing junior high youth group, started a high school youth group, and led the Sunday school program. He also connected with the Nova Scotia Gambia Association, and took some of the youth on learning and cultural exposure trips.
“I haven’t taken youth to Truro, how can I take youth to Africa?” he says. “So, that has been pretty awesome for me as well, personally.”
He worked with the nine-piece youth band, ReGenesis, started yearly retreats, and introduced to the youth spiritual practices such as meditation and breathing techniques.
“A lot of them ate it up,” Gunn says. “They said, ‘We love it when we do this stuff.’ Their lives are so busy. There is this culture of working them too hard to be super kids, so we built in a lot of contemplation.”
Through his work with the youth, the people at Bedford United realized Gunn’s musical talent.
“Along the process it became clear to us this musical ability Rick has is phenomenal,” Hart says. “When Rick is engaged musically, he just shines.”
Gunn has two albums, So Normal and The Real Thing, under his belt. He was also part of a local jazz group, The Novelty Salesmen, and performed on two of their albums.
Hart says the church saw how its youth grow their musical selfconfidence under Gunn’s guidance. So, the church asked Gunn to focus on the music, in a new role as minister of music and youth.
One of the musical highlights Gunn brought to Bedford United is Christmas cantatas that are performed each December. To date, Gunn has composed four cantatas, writing every part. Each cantata is rich in thick harmonies, guitar, and percussion, and includes up to 80 singers.
“It’s more than a nice church service with pretty music,” he says. “Most of the music is unfamiliar because it’s mine. It brings in people who aren’t really Christian, but they love the spirituality of it. And the singers love it, too. Eighty people coming together to do one thing and do it super well. And they are so proud of the sound and the fun.”
Hart says these cantatas have been a highlight for him, the church, and the community. “When he’s directing, he’s so totally engaged in the moment, he’s so spontaneous, he’s funny, and he knows his music so brilliantly,” Hart says. “He’s able to connect with people. He’s able to assist people musically, but he does it in such a gentle and nurturing way.”
In September, Gunn returned to school. He’s working on a Masters of Divinity at the Atlantic School of Theology. His current job allows him to perform all the roles in the church but baptism and communion. “I felt called to be ordained,” he says. To accommodate his studies, he changed his role at Bedford United and is now working part time and is focusing on the music at the church.
Gunn will finish his studies in four or five years. But he expects his calling will take him beyond Bedford United.
“I hope to find a job at a church that is open, welcoming, and progressive where I can do some music, and I can do some preaching, and I can do some visiting, but somehow have a balance there,” he says.
Hart thinks Gunn’s cantatas and his work with the youth are his legacies to the church.
“The Christmas cantatas have touched the entire community with the enormity of the creativity,” Hart says. “There is a lot of rhythm, percussion, they are very modern-esque and accessible to the community. I think for many, many young people and children, Rick’s legacy will be how he’s empowered these young people and fostered their growth as human beings.”
Gunn says Bedford United is a growing opportunity for him. He says when he moves on to another church, he will be stronger and better in the role because of his work at Bedford United. He says he will miss the people the most, the laughter, and the open and happy environment.
“I will always be thankful to Bedford United and those 700-some families who walked through the door over the years,” he says. “They have helped me become who I am.”
Rick Gunn’s next cantata “Let Love’s Light Come” will be performed Sunday, Dec. 4 at St. John’s United Church in Fall River at 7 p.m. and then again on Sunday, Dec, 11 at Bedford United Church at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m