Ministry Profile - Rev. Étienne LeSage

Updated: Apr 19

To be published in French in the book "Rouyn-Noranda 1926-2026: 100 ans pour 100 enfants" (Rouyn-Noranda 1926-2026: 100 years for 100 children), edited by Fr Pierre Larivière

Reverend Étienne LeSage (1977- )

son of Diane Benoit and Laurent LeSage.

Born prematurely in Montréal, Étienne returned to Rouyn after a few months to grow up with his small but loving family who allowed him to blossom, despite his cerebral palsy, diagnosed later in his young years. Without being able to participate in overly physical activities, his sport at the time took the form of an inherited piano. His teacher Sr. Lucienne Gaudet believed in him and was his first spiritual mentor who shared the love of God and music with him.

As a teenager, he became involved in the church as a musician at the Granada parish. What seemed to be a solid call to the priesthood appeared around 17, but Étienne decided that he was too young to make an informed choice.

Eager to choose a profession that would be compatible with the strengths and weaknesses of his disability, he left Abitibi and completed a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Management at the University of Sherbrooke in 2001. Afterward, Étienne was recruited by the federal government as a programmer and climbed the ladder in several departments in Gatineau-Ottawa to eventually become a team leader and senior functional analyst.

During this time, a United Church of Canada billboard surprised him in a bus shelter. Surprised that a church would sign such an inclusive and progressive message, he checked on the Internet to see if it was just a cult… but no: it's the largest Christian denomination in the country, after the Roman Catholic Church. He visited a few parishes and eventually chose to join Trinity United Church in Ottawa, liking the attitude of the people and the theological approach, proud that the minister, Rev. Ellie Barrington, was a woman with a passion for social justice. Étienne was happy to have found a new spiritual home where he could continue to grow in his faith, little knowing that the Holy Spirit would ambush him to reignite his call to ordained ministry.

Étienne took a few philosophy courses at St. Paul University to see if he would fit in a theological faculty and an English one! He was already bilingual but had never been in the academic world in English. After a year of active discernment, he was accepted as a candidate for ordained ministry by the Montréal and Ottawa Conference. Faced with the prospect of a career change, he thought, "If you're going to take the plunge, do it now at age 33 while you have the energy and courage to do so." Not easy to leave a stable and promising career in the public service to answer a deep call from God...! After being granted a 5-year leave of absence without pay, Etienne sold his home to move into a half-basement in Montréal to finance his studies at McGill University and seminary. During his last year of graduate school, he was appointed as a solo intern pastor in a French-speaking parish on Ste-Catherine Street. It was there that he celebrated his first funeral with homeless people.

He obtained his Master of Divinity degree the same year before being sent to Toronto for a second internship, teamed up with Rev. Norm Seli of Jubilee United Church. The latter became his supervisor and an excellent mentor. A musician and performer, Norm encouraged Etienne to use his talents in the full range of colours of his vivid French Canadian nature to have fun, laugh and cry in Church while fostering a deep spiritual bond with the parishioners he accompanied.

Rev. Étienne was ordained a minister of the Word, Sacraments, and Pastoral Care by the Synod of Montréal and Ottawa on May 30, 2015, at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. His enthusiastic and authentic style will emphasize radical inclusivity and lively preaching that simplifies Christian spirituality, whether in religious celebrations or on the Internet, to revive the relevance of the Holy Scriptures in people's daily lives. Etienne will quickly be called upon to preach at regional and national gatherings and counsel his colleagues in positions of authority in the church.

Surprisingly, Étienne was first appointed in Hamilton, Ontario, at Stoney Creek United Church, a 200-year-old English-speaking parish founded near the historic battlefield of 1812, another sociocultural context with which he was unfamiliar. He remained there for three years before being appointed to Marshall Memorial United Church in a more modern building, which he thought would be more accessible to his physical condition. There he discovered a harsher reality for people with motor disabilities: the accelerated wear and tear and accelerated effects of aging despite his young age. He could no longer function at the same pace as a person without a disability in this highly performative environment. In addition, he was confronted with an organizational rigidity that did not know how to adapt to human differences. With deep sorrow, Étienne was forced to leave his congregational ministry early in his career in 2020.

Before hanging up his stole, Étienne remembered that he had chosen to wear it for one last public event. Following Anglican Archbishop Michael Curry and other Church leaders who organized the "Reclaiming Jesus" rally, he joined hundreds of Canadian and American ecumenical clergy in Washington, D.C., to march on the White House and send a strong message to President Trump that nobody should use Jesus or religion to hurt people. Thirteen thousand steps with the crowd[1] remains a personal feat that Étienne will not be able to repeat, and this memory transcends his daily barriers and the borders of the world.

Étienne was forced to stay home a year before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that eventually confined everyone. During his recovery, he explored virtual ministry by launching two podcasts: FriendlyRev[2] (in English) and Mon Ami Pasteur[3] (in French), making it his mission to answer people's spiritual questions in conversations like one would have with friends. The first season and its 26 episodes of less than 15 minutes were heard and watched by over 600 people until 2022.

While writing these words, Etienne does not know what will happen to his public life and continues to hope to discover a new mission that will put his talents to good use while respecting his health.

[1] Grenier, Suzanne. 2018. "13,000 pas avec la foule.” Aujourd’hui Credo, June 14, 2018. in French

[2] Access the podcast in English:

[3] Access the podcast in French:

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