Thursday, May 11, 2023

Introducing: Dr Dad! - My Convocation Oration

Today, my Dad - Rev. Hollis Hiscock - 
has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity 
from Queen's College, School of Theology, 
in St. John's, NL.

Gerald and I are unable to attend in person,
but I was very kindly asked to write Dad's introduction for the convocation. 

Thank you, Rev. Rob Cooke, for this great honour,
and for reading in my absence.

Here's my oration. Please enjoy, and lift a prayer for Dad and for all those convocating today. May they have strength, peace, and loving hearts in their next chapter of ministry. 

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I’d like to start with a personal story from Hollis’s daughter, Allison Lynn Flemming.

“Growing up, our favourite place was our cabin at Ocean Pond. One night, Dad and I stayed up late playing a board game. I can’t remember the name of the game, but the goal was to get to know each other by asking questions. I had a great idea - I would ask Dad about becoming a priest. You see, even at a young age, I’d realized that Dad’s job wasn’t like the other Dads’ jobs. From the working-on-Sundays, to the way people reacted when he said ‘I’m a priest’ all let me know his job was somehow different.

So, in the way that only a cheeky 10-year-old could, I asked, ‘If you could start all over again, would you still be a priest?’ Dad answered with no hesitation, ‘Yes, I would.’ 

I can’t remember his next words, but it was the first time I ever heard someone explain the difference between a job and a calling. That night, I learned more about my Dad than I could fully understand in that moment. I would recall that night many times over the years, especially in the seasons where I saw Dad challenged by the work of ministry. And I was especially thankful for that conversation many years later, when I received my own calling into music ministry.” 

Hollis Robert Nathaniel Hiscock was born in Salvage, the youngest child of James and Winnifred. Hollis and his older siblings, Winston and Alicia, were good kids who caused just the right amount of trouble. Their home was defined by a curiosity for learning, a strong sense of community, and a deep faith in God. All three of these would go on to shape Hollis’s ministry and life.

Hollis pursued theology and a path to orientation through Queen’s College. Like many students, Hollis was active in amateur sports. One afternoon, he was playing soccer when a professor reprimanded him for not wearing his clerical collar. “Proper clergyman” he was informed, "always wear their collars, no matter what they’re doing!” At that moment, Hollis thought, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be a proper clergyman.” 

Hollis joined the summer staff of Killdevil boys’ camp as Padre. One Saturday, a few of the girls’ staff dropped by for a visit, including the beautiful camp nurse, Helen Ryall. Legend has it that, at the end of that day, Hollis turned to his friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl!”

Hollis was ordained a deacon in 1964 and priested in 1965. On September 28, 1968, Hollis did indeed marry Helen, and the young couple moved to the Parish of Cow Head.

Now, that incident about the soccer game proved to be more prophetic than first imagined. Throughout their lives together, Hollis and Helen continued to challenge church rules that seemed outdated, frivolous, or discriminatory.

You see, you can’t talk about Hollis without talking about Helen, and Hollis will be the first to tell you that. Where Hollis thrives in public leadership, Helen prefers to work behind the scenes. Even in this moment, she hates that we’re talking about her in public. (Don’t worry, Helen, Allison said to blame her for this part of the intro!) Her gifts of hospitality, empathy, and proofreading have fed into every aspect of Hollis’s work. Helen has a unique ability to find people on the fringes of a party or a congregation, and bring them into the fold. She makes everyone she meets feel happier, healthier, and more loved.

Hollis’s life of ordained ministry has spanned almost 60 years, covering 4 Dioceses and 2 provinces! There are a thousand reasons for him to receive today’s honour, but I want to mention four tent-posts that have defined his ministry.


Hollis’s first posting - a 30-point parish - took him to the Great Northern Peninsula. But the bulk of his career would be serving parishes as Rector, first at St. Thomas’ Church (St. John’s, NL) and St. John’s York Mills Church (Toronto, ON). 

When Hollis was rector of St. Thomas’, General Synod came to Newfoundland, and Hollis helped lead a vibrant and Spirit-filled week of events. On the final Sunday, delegates and local parishioners gathered at St. Thomas’ Church for a 1-kilometre prayer walk, ending at Memorial Stadium. 4000 worshipers, led by a mass choir, celebrated Holy Communion. Always a creative thinker, Hollis had envisioned an altar that, with a few swift movements, could morph into a boat! As the worship concluded, the transformation began. Three large sails, each representing a Newfoundland-Labrador Diocese, was brought through the crowd and mounted on the boat. 4000 voices sang “I feel the winds of God today, today my sails I lift!” 

In his “retirement,” Hollis has led over 20 parishes through interims and guest worship leadership. Wherever he goes, parishioners of all generations testify to his gentle, creative and inclusive preaching, leadership and pastoring. Perhaps it was said best by the teenage girls of St. John’s York Mills. At Hollis’s retirement celebration, they expressed their love and admiration for him by singing a song from the musical Wicked, letting Hollis know that “because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”


Hollis’s passion for writing, photography, and parish life came together in his work as Editor for two Diocesan newspapers. He served 10 years with The Newfoundland Churchman (now “Anglican Life) and 8 years with The Niagara Anglican. In addition to his role as Editor, Hollis wrote hundreds of articles, interviews and editorials, sharing the Good News as lived out in local parishes. Hollis’s teacher’s-heart also led to him to mentor countless new and emerging writers and photographers for each paper, creating a legacy of storytelling across the country.


Hollis is a passionate supporter of the arts, encouraging parish choirs, bands, handbell choirs, and drama to generously share their gifts with the congregation and community. His signature phrase - “We’re carving out new ministries.” - has led to the creation of countess plays, concert series, and other creative ventures. 

Perhaps the highlight was The Real Christmas Story - A Walk Through - cowritten by Hollis and his daughter, Allison. Each December, audiences walked the churchyard of St. John’s York Mills to visit seven stages, each featuring a living scene from the nativity. 125 performers, greeters, and volunteers pooled their talents to create the production. During its 10-year run, over 5,000 people attended the live performances. A documentary of the play aired nationally for 5 seasons on Vision TV, with an estimated viewership of over 100,000 homes.

Hollis’s love of the arts and support for artists is obvious to anyone who knows him. In recognition of this, St. John’s York Mills Church created The Hiscock Fund in Hollis and Helen’s honour. This ongoing grant program continues to support and encourage a whole new generation in their own artistic expressions of worship.


Hollis’ ministry has never been limited by the walls of the church. He taught Religious Education at the high school level and Psychology at MUN. He was the original Co-Ordinator of Grenfell Campus Extension Services (MUN), responsible for academic, recreational, and business programs in Western and Northern Newfoundland. He has served on numerous church and local committees, including the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, the St. Christopher's Rainbow Committee, and the 1988 Olympic Torch Relay Committee.

And remember the professor who wanted Hollis to wear his collar at all times? Well, how do you think he would feel about wearing his collar with high heels?

On his 50th ordination anniversary, Hollis donned pink high heels and his clerical collar to join the community event: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, speaking out against male violence against women. Just another creative way Hollis has let people of faith, or of no faith, know they are seen and loved by God.

Hollis’s favourite parable is The Sower and The Seed. If you recall the opening of the story, the Sower isn’t stingy with the seed. Instead, he sows it generously, trusting it will find its way to the good soil. 

Hollis, you have sowed the seed of the Gospel generously!

Because of your commitment to parish ministry, both seekers and lifelong Christians have found a church home that’s welcoming, loving, active, and compassionate. 

Because of your passion for Christian journalism, the stories of God and God’s people have been written, read, and lifted up across our country.

Because of your love of the arts, the Gospel has found new forms of expression, sharing its message of love in countless ways.

And because you dared to step outside the walls of the church, you have provided a loving and inclusive witness of faith to the wider community. 

Isaiah 6:8 inspired a great song - Here I Am, Lord -
a song that has been a touchpoint of Hollis’s life of ministry. 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Hollis, your love for God and God’s people, your generous and creative leadership, has sparked and supported a legacy of ongoing ministries by clergy, artists, and people of faith. You have made our Church, and our wider community, a stronger, more loving, more inclusive place. You live out the Gospel message with every breath.

We so are thankful that when asked, you responded,
“Here am I. Send me.”


Hollis will preach on Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. Newfoundland time (9:00 a.m. in Ontario)
 at St. Thomas' in St. John's, Newfoundland-Labrador. 

He served there over ten years as part of the clergy staff and Rector. All are welcome to join in person!  

The service will also stream live on the church's Facebook page:

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