Just ‘being themselves’ makes for good show

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The Ottawa Citizen

23 August 1986

Ian Bailey  Citizen Staff Writer

McGrory radio photo Citizen 23 August 1986







For four years, Rabbi Arnold Fine, Rev. Tom Sherwood and Rev. Barry McGrory have found time once a week to sit in a quiet room and talk about religion.

What makes their conversations unusual is that they have an estimated 12,000 eavesdroppers when they present Focus Religion, an interfaith discussion broadcast on CJSB, an AM radio station, every Sunday at 7:35 a.m.

Fine, 48, is rabbi at the Agudath Israel Congregation in Ottawa. Sherwood, 38, is pastor at the Orleans United Church, and McGrory, 52, is a priest at Holy Cross Church in Ottawa.

But the trio will soon be a duo – at least temporarily.

McGrory is leaving the city to take a year’s sabbatical from his duties at Holy Cross Church to study at the National Defence College in Kingston.

They taped their last regular, 25-minute show together Tuesday. It will be heard on the Labor Day weekend.

The three have been broadcasting from an electronic pulpit since Labor Day four years ago, after CJSB’s first station manager invited Fine to help develop a religious radio show.

Fine invited McGrory to join him and McGrory, in turn, contacted Sherwood, then an occasional teacher and full-time sociology student at Carleton University.

Under the guidance of station manager Sid Margles, they developed a unique weekly dialogue on topics such as sex, clergy burnout, abortion, faith healing and capital punishment.

Margles has since left the station, but his recruits have continued to voluntarily provide their unscripted, unedited discussions in their Sunday morning timeslot.

Occasionally, a new perspective is provided by a guest. Recent visitors have included Rev. Sally Eaton, the first woman ordained by the Anglican Church in Ottawa.

As he watched them tape their last show together, CJSB talk-show host Ed Needham said the differences between the members of what he calls the “Holy Trinity” make them special.

“It’s the way they disagree that makes them good,” says Needham, who has had the trio on his own show to discuss the value of religion and other issues.

“They can express their differences without antagonism,” he says.

This exchange without anger is what the show is all about, says Sherwood.

“The fact that a priest, a minister and a rabbi are having a public debate is good news,” he says.

“You have to learn the vocabulary of interfaith consultation and most of it is just listening.”

No matter how involved the topics become, one thing the three say they never do before a program is prime themselves with detailed research.

“None of us has the time for scripted research,” says McGrory.

Adds Sherwood: “The preparation we’re doing as ministers comes into play. We’re preparing for this show all our lives. The three of us can do this show by just being ourselves.”

But will Focus Religion overcome the loss of one of its founding personalities?

“I think the ratings will nosedive,” says McGrory with a smile but, becoming serious, he predicts that the show will survive because it has become a habit for an audience seeking intriguing listening on Sunday mornings.

McGrory plans to return for occasional appearances on the show. In the meantime, his partners will fill his spot with a series of guests in the weeks after Labor Day, using the appearances to audition potential successors.

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