Well, at least for the moment.
I have been pouring hours and hours into my book project, Gays in the Pulpit. My working draft is now over 170 pages, which is probably half. And the stories! And the people!
Chicago is home to Reconciling Ministries Network—the Methodist LGBTQ advocacy group–and I have visited with Troy Plummer (their director), Pastor Bonnie Beckonchrist (their board chair), Pastor Morris Floyd (activist in the 80’s and 90’s), and Mark Bowman (original founder). Bowman is also the director of LGBTran Archives, which contains biographies and more about leading LGBTQ icons. Turns out I already knew Steve Webster of Madison, Wisconsin who organized the first Methodist gay caucus back in 1975.
Thanks to these excellent resources, my draft includes chapters covering the Methodist history up to around 2000. The Methodists are the remaining holdout among the five principal mainline Protestant denominations. The others (ELCA, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and United Church of Christ) all ordain gay clergy, but the upcoming UMC quadrennial General Conference may change that. It’s close, with US delegates firmly on board, but because the UMC also has delegations from Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere who tend to be very conservative vis a vis LGBTQ issues, the US delegates may need around 65% positive to offset the likely 90% negative from outside the US. The Conference is scheduled the end of April in Tampa, and I’m thinking I may attend and do some live-blogging as I did during the historic ELCA Assembly in 2009.
I am also up to around the year 2000 in my ELCA chapters. Chicago is home to both the ELCA archives and the Lutherans Concerned (LCNA) archives. I recently returned to Minnesota and had a delightful lunch with Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart of the famous extra ordinem ordinations in San Francisco in 1990, and I have been in email correspondence with Pastor Jim Siefkes (who organized the first Lutheran gay caucus back in 1974), Jeannine Janson (who compiled a booklet containing early LCNA history), Amalia Vagts (the director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries), and others.
Louie Crew, the founder of the Episcopal group Integrity, has been very helpful during phone conversations and email correspondence. His stories also go back to the mid 1970’s. I have exchanged emails with Ellen Marie Barrett, the first Episcopal lesbian priest way back in 1977, who provided a poignant look back at the pain of rejection but also the triumph—“I am a priest forever!” My Episcopal chapters go to around 1990.
The Presbyterians and the UCC still require a lot of work—those chapters only cover the very early 1970’s. I have been in touch with More Light Presbyterians and the UCC Coalition, but I now need to follow up on the leads they have provided. Retired dean of the United Theological Seminary Clyde Steckel has been helpful with early information about the UCC. Trips to Cleveland and Drew University in New Jersey are likely in the offing, which is where many key persons and records are located.
In addition to these contacts, I have also kept the nearby Arlington Heights Library busy with dozens of inter-library loan requests. Many official records of national church conventions are available online as well.