Prioritizing community-based support and merging traditional and modern hymnodies are the driving forces behind Reverend Jacqui Foxall’s 15-year tenure as Minister at Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville. After graduating in 2006 from the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel University College with a specialization in Church Music and Worship, Jacqui has used her knowledge of different forms of religious expression to create an inclusive congregational environment undergirded by pastoral care. “Central to my practice in crafting worship services is leaning into our wide musical history and ability to embolden God’s message,” Jacqui said. “It has amazed me to see to the congregation embrace a diverse palette of music and worship.”  

While Jacqui’s call to ministry was unexpected, it was a eureka moment that just made sense to her. “One of the ministers at my church asked if I had considered being called to ministry,” reflected Jacqui. “I compare that moment to the cartoons when the light bulb ignites above a character's head.” Jacqui knew she needed an undergraduate degree before attending seminary, so she switched mid-university to a joint honours Music and Religious Studies program to satisfy her vocational yearning and prepare for ministry work. “I started by taking a course in hymnody with Grebel Music Professor Ken Hull, and it built out from there.”  

Jacqui Foxall

Jacqui’s specialization gave her a unique perspective on the different ways music can augment corporate religious services and deepen individual experiences of faith. “It was fascinating to learn how church music and history have evolved and continue to evolve across religious communities today,” she said. During her studies, Jacqui appreciated the broader focus on world religions, rather than solely on Christian theology. “I loved the explorations of Eastern religions as much as I appreciated the deep connections across the Abrahamic faiths,” she said. “Religion is a human-made structure which forms around the meaning we make about ourselves, creation, and the cosmos. At the root of every religious system is a story. Music has a vital role to play in telling that story.” 

After finishing her undergraduate degree, Jacqui completed a three-year Master of Divinity degree at Knox College (part of the Toronto School of Theology, at the University of Toronto). At which point she was able to seek out a call to ordained ministry in a Canadian Presbyterian church. “I knew I wanted a traditional church that had deep generational roots,” Jacqui remarked. “When I discovered the long history behind Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville and found out it was older than the Canadian Confederacy itself, I was immediately interested.” So, in the summer of 2009, Jacqui took the call to Knox Oakville as one half of a two-minister team.  

“There’s a newness, a naiveté, when you’re in your mid 20s and you’re just out of school,” Jacqui commented. “You’re full of book-smarts, but a little light on world-smarts.” When Jacqui arrived at Knox, she noticed that while the seeds were there for a more progressive ethos, it was still a deeply conservative church with cemented routines and ideas. “It was a bit jarring at first, for all of us.” The church offered two Sunday services: a traditional Presbyterian service at 10:30, and a contemporary service at 9 o'clock. “It felt like an advertisement for the ‘worship wars’ which were big in the late 20th and early 21st century” Jacqui remarked. With a clear divide in her church’s community, Jacqui sought to bring the congregation together using her musical expertise. “Over my time here, we've gone back to having a single Sunday morning service,” she said, “and I was insistent that rather than abandoning one style over the other, or forcing a merge, that we would engage our musical diversity each week to underpin and elevate the message. In so doing, we showcase the community’s musical talent. There’s a little something for everyone, but more importantly, the congregation has come to love its musical diversity.”   

During the Advent and Lenten seasons, Knox hosts 20-minute recitals before the service to highlight local musicians. “We’ve had students from high schools play, family members of congregants, and even professional musicians” she said. Over the years, these recitals have featured string quartets, piano, classical guitar, brass, voice, the Celtic harp, and more. “Using Sunday morning as a platform to elevate the musical community has been powerful.” Jacqui credited this exploration of different styles to the strong working relationship and shared vision she has with the staff, especially the Director of Music and the Praise Team leader (the former a classically trained and world-renowned organist and choir director, the latter an elementary school teacher by day who brings a jazzy, free-flowing style to the piano).  

In 2015 Jacqui’s co-minister retired, and the church turned to her expecting her to take up the mantle. “By that point, I had changed, and the church had changed,” Jacqui reflected. “I asked them to redo the interviewing process to see if we were still compatible.” After deep internal reflection, prayer, and consideration, Jacqui and Knox decided to continue the modern, inclusive practices Jacqui introduced to their community. 

Since becoming their solo minister, Jacqui has continued journeying alongside her church family. “There is something amazing when you grow with a community and watch that ‘aha’ moment happen,” she remarked. “It’s not through force-feeding doctrine or scripture. Rather it is the fruit borne from years of tending and tilling soil, planting seeds, and watching what God grows within an individual and a community. I’m addicted to that feeling.” Across the years, Jacqui has ensured a cohesivity between the liturgy, music, and sermons, which has borne fruit in peoples’ personal faith journeys and the faith and ministry of the congregation at large. “The community of faith understands that we are telling a story about God and ourselves and the world each time we gather for worship. And we proclaim that story through song and silence, laughter and tears, prayers and preaching, and even through fellowship over a cup of coffee before we head home. I don’t know if I could have done that without the foundation in church music and worship, I received at Grebel,” she commented.  

For Jacqui, Grebel was a safe haven of rest, reflection, and guidance. She remembered the instant connection she felt when she saw the kitchen staff playing Dutch Blitz, a card game she has played with her own family since she was a child. “Grebel is simply one of my favorite places to be,” she said. “I can still conjure up the smell of being in the hallways and classrooms, everything feels at peace when I’m there.” Jacqui is still an active member of the Grebel community, as she is currently working toward a Conflict Management Certificate.  

To current Grebel students or alumni awaiting a similar eureka moment, Jacqui urges them to pause and reflect. “Let your bones rest,” she said. “The world is going to keep turning whether or not we hustle,” she said. “Life requires rest, whether that be resting in a decision, a relationship, or a place. Be still and let the knowing come.” 

By Jiho Mercer

By integrating traditional and modern forms of music, Reverend Jacqui Foxall has helped foster a welcoming, collaborative community at Knox Presbyterian Church in Oakville. After experiencing a eureka moment as a young adult, Jacqui discovered her vocational call to become a minister and enrolled in Grebel’s Honours Music and Religious Studies program with a specialization in Church Music and Worship. Integrating her musical knowledge to augment God’s message drives Jacqui in her work and helped her grow alongside the Knox church community. Jacqui’s has retained her Grebel roots as she works toward a Conflict Management Certificate. 

Outside of the church, Jacqui spends most of her time with her daughters, Acadia and Piper, who also love music, singing, and playing Dutch Blitz. She finds stillness by puttering in the garden beds around her home in Burlington, and chatting with the bees who frequent the large lavender bush outside her front door.  

Jacqui's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.