Hanns Skoutajan by Laurie McNight

December 15, 2015

Hanns Skoutajan Reflection 

By Laurie McNight

I came to know Hanns and Marlene when my husband Will became Hanns' student in the early 1980’s at St James Bond United Church in Toronto. Well, those who had been his students were treated more as associates, as colleagues, and friends, rather than as students. I know that Will was always humbled by Hanns' mastery in preaching, yet Will was also always very surprised by the amount of responsibility and freedom he gave to Will as a budding minister, especially since Will’s background was as a Catholic.

An example of this was when Will came to do his very first funeral at St James Bond and Hanns was off camping for his summer vacation and it turned out that the man who had died was a former United Church Moderator — every student’s dream. Hanns encouraged Will and said he was sure he would do a great job! 

I know that Will worked hard to inspire in Hanns a passion for the contemplative life, the wisdom of the mystics and for liturgy to balance his passion for activism — and lots of words were spent talking about all of this for years. So it was quite a surprise to me when Hanns retired and moved to Ottawa that he initially found his home in the Anglican Church because he said he loved the liturgy and the more contemplative side of our faith.

My earliest memories of Hanns are in marching with him and Marlene and few thousand others in the peace marches of the '80’s when we sang songs of freedom and hope, marching behind United Church banners, opening our voices to end the insanity of the nuclear arms buildup. When the Berlin wall came down in 1989 we all felt that our marching and singing might have had something to do with that.

When Will and I married in 1983 there was no question but to ask Hanns to preside at our wedding in Kingston, a city he loved to visit because Queen's, his old alma mater was there, and some of his old friends. When our first child, Jessica, was born in 1986. it was an easy decision to invite Hanns and Marlene to be her godparents, even though Hanns needed a little coaching on what that would mean.  

In our years in Grey County, serving five charges near Owen Sound, they would come to visit us periodically and Hanns would always regale us with interesting stories, including stories of all the church-shaping decisions that he would have been part of. Some of this, I am sure, happened through his association with the group of United church ministers he would lunch with on a weekly basis. Will was always astounded at the kind of authority and knowledge these men held and the influence they had on the life of the church — Cliff Elliot, Frank Meadows, Gordon Nodwel, are a few names I remember.  It was always a lesson in church politics to observe Hanns ‘networking’ like no other at the Annual meeting of Toronto Conference. I like to think that the Skoutajan visits to Grey County stretching out along the beautiful shores of Georgian Bay, helped to influence their move to Owen Sound.

Having sat in the choir stalls at St James Bond for a few years while I waited for my own commissioning as a Diaconal Minister, I was enthralled by Hanns ability in preaching, with his passion and call to prophetic justice in one hand and a social justice journal in the other hand.

Years later in the mid 1990’s when I was a student at QTC studying for ordination, I took a course in Missiology with Hal Lewellyn. I decided I wanted to do a paper on an important mentor in my life who ignited my passion for social justice and so I asked Hanns if he would mind if I could read all of his sermons (that he had actually written down), to learn how his life’s passion had been shaped by theology and by events of his life. You can well imagine what a rich and rewarding experience that was to write that paper. I found a sermon I had written in November, 1997 shortly after I had written that paper and I will share a few sentences from that:

I shared with the congregation in the Ottawa Valley where I was serving, about his escape from the Nazis during the war, then I proceeded……

“I share this story with you of how war shaped the life of one man because Hanns became an important mentor in shaping my own understanding of how to shape a Christian life…... The profound impact that the suffering caused by war had upon Hanns as a young child caused him to give his life to God as a peacemaker. Throughout the years of the cold war, during the years of nuclear build-up, Hans Skoutajan continued to preach the Cross of Christ as a call to bring peace to the world, to provide a home for those forced to become refugees, as a call to uphold justice, democracy and friendship between all the peoples of the world.

"Through the work of Christ in Hanns life, the pain and grief of a young boy were transformed into a passionate love for peace which has helped to change the hearts of many people and institutions which he has served. Even though retired, he continues to pour out his whole life as a writer, an agitator, and a father and as a loyal friend so that some day war will be no more.”

In closing, I have been so blessed and inspired by the mentorship and friendship of this incredible man, Hanns Skoutajan,  touched by his passion for life, his love for his family, his integrity, his hospitality, his vulnerability, his love for God.  Hanns — weaver of stories, weaver of truth, weaver of peace . . . our love for him and his love for life has made a home in so many of our hearts and for that my heart is grateful.


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