Monthly Archives: November 2013

Melvin Wheatley: Maverick Methodist bishop

The Methodist ecclesiastical trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer has dominated the weekly news cycle. Rev. Schaefer has become the latest icon of resistance to oppressive Methodist LGBT policies after he was convicted of the heinous crime of presiding at the marriage of his gay son.  Several weeks earlier, retired Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert was the center of the news for presiding at a gay marriage in Alabama. For that, the Methodist Council of Bishops has decreed that ecclesiastical charges be brought against one of their own. I heard Bishop Talbert predict his own actions during a rousing speech outside the convention hall in Tampa that hosted the 2012 Methodist General Conference. “Biblical obedience demands ecclesiastical disobedience” he said then to a roused-up audience still smarting from legislative defeat the day before. Meanwhile, ecclesiastical charges are pending against esteemed Methodist ethicist and former dean of Yale Divinity School, Rev. Thomas Ogletree, for officiating at the legal marriage of his gay son. These three martyrs are the latest in a long line of straight allies who have incurred official Methodist wrath for daring to suggest that the emperor wears no clothes.

The first of these was Bishop Melvin Wheatley of Colorado. Bishop Wheatley was already a veteran of edgy social justice actions when he refused to assent to an onerous episcopal message (a collective statement of all Methodist bishops) at the 1980 General Conference. When the episcopal address parroted Methodist homophobia, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” Wheatley responded, “I will not accept [this statement]. It states as an absolute fact what is an insufficiently documented opinion: that gay persons can’t be Christians.”

Earlier, he had moved into the home of Japanese Americans sent to an internment camp during WWII in order to protect the vacant home from vandals, and he also exchanged pulpits for a month with a black minister of a black congregation in Los Angeles in 1964 as racial unrest simmered, ready to boil over.

Bishop Melvin WheatleyAfter publicly voicing objection to the 1980 episcopal address, Bishop Wheatley then acted on his own words. In 1982, he ordained an open lesbian to the ministry of word and sacrament. To the best of my knowledge, Joanne Carlson Brown remains the only out gay or lesbian ordained as Methodist clergy because the 1984 General Conference reacted to her ordination by expressly prohibiting ordination of “self avowed practicing homosexuals,” and this policy remains in effect today. Of course, there are countless gay or lesbian Methodist clergy, but most are closeted and none were out at the time of their ordination.

The LGBT activism of Bishop Wheatley wasn’t finished. That same year of 1982, a gay youth pastor was outed and lost his position with a Denver area church. Bishop Wheatley then appointed Julian Rush to an inner city congregation. Though the pay was miniscule, Bishop Wheatley attempted to preserve the clerical credentials of Rush. A Methodist pastor from the south attempted to bring ecclesiastical charges against Wheatley for this appointment, and Wheatley faced sharp questioning at a hearing. He did not knuckle under, and he pointedly told the panel, “Homosexuality is a mysterious gift of God’s grace.” Charges were dropped.

A significant component of Rush’s youth ministry was as lyricist, composer, and director of religious musical drama, and his youth group often went “on the road” to perform Rush’s creations.

Here’s a sample:

Being down is like down on the ground

With nobody, no place to go;

When the big creatures push you around,

And they make you feel … Oh, I don’t know,

It’s a feeling that’s more like a pain in your heart,

And you feel like … you feel like … a worm.

Now an ant is an ant

And a worm is a worm

But an ant has to crawl

And a worm has to squirm,

So an ant shouldn’t bother

Befriending a worm

Since a worm cannot crawl

And an ant cannot squirm

We’re different and different we’ll stay,

It’s just God’s will.

It’s just God’s way.

From The Resurrection Thing by Julian Rush

 

This is the twelfth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

Mark Bowman: Pan-denominational leader

Reared in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State, Mark Bowman entered Boston University School of Theology in 1978 as a married man with two daughters, but he soon realized he was gay. He came out with exuberant self-discovery and immediately became active with Boston area gay seminarians. In 1980, he attended the national gathering of Affirmation, the renamed Methodist Gay Caucus that was then five years old. He continued in seminary and was ordained a deacon in his home conference in Ohio, but word of his involvement with Affirmation filtered back, and an official inquiry resulted in revocation of his probationary status. Though he received his M Div degree in 1982, he would never enter ordained ministry.

Instead, he became one of the iconic, pan-denominational leaders of the welcoming church movement.

More Light Presbyterians, dating to 1978, served as the model for the Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), originally called the Reconciling Congregations Project (RCP), and other denominational welcoming church organizations. Mark Bowman served on the task force that birthed the Methodist “program in which local churches will declare their support for the concerns of lesbians and gay men.” The Reconciling Congregation Project (RCP) was created in 1983, and Bowman, along with Beth Richardson, served as volunteer coordinators. The second choice for the name of the organization demonstrated a sense of humor: “Self-Avowed, Practicing Churches,” parroting the disciplinary terminology of the church

Their initial focus was simply the 1984 General Conference. Disappointment and rejection had jarred early Affirmation members, and RCP was a fall-back strategy to be implemented in anticipation of further legislative rejection. Indeed, the 1984 General Conference codified Methodist LGBT exclusion from the pulpit. Mark Bowman and his associates in the RCP were prepared; after the plenary defeats, they passed out endless flyers to conference attendees, encouraging local congregations to become reconciling congregations. After the Conference ended, two congregations signed up–Washington Square UMC in New York City and Wesley UMC in Fresno, California–and the movement that would become the Reconciling Ministries Network was off and running.

Bowman continued as volunteer leader. As the organization grew, his status changed to part time paid director and then full time. Along the way, the organizational publication, Open Hands Magazine, won awards and became a pan-denominational publication. Bowman was instrumental in arranging coordination between the various religious LGBT organizations, and he helped arrange two large ecumenical WOW Conferences (Witness our Welcome) that were held after the turn of the century.

By then, Bowman had moved on from RMN to spearhead a new project to preserve LGBT history. Bowman continues as director of the online compendium of LGBT history known as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Religious Archives Network (www.lgbtran.org).

Mark BowmanI first met Mark for lunch near his northside Chicago home in 2011. After I explained my plans for a book, he commented, “That’s a huge universe you’re exploring.” Indeed. Despite that initial skepticism, Mark has been a huge supporter, and we have met face-to-face a couple of times since, and he has fact-checked my manuscript and offered suggestions. Mark is also an accomplished church musician and when he hasn’t been busy with LGBT concerns, he has worked in other social justice ministries including Bread for the World. He is also a doting grandfather to grandkids who live nearby.

He tends to understate his own contributions, but I hope my book will out him.

 

This is the eleventh installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

Lois Powell: UCC lesbian activist

“What a beautiful, heady, exasperating, hopeful mix!” the pastor exclaimed. We are “a people of risky adventure.” These are the words of the pastor of a Boston congregation in a 1975 article in the UCC’s national magazine. The Rev. Oliver G. Powell lifted up images of sauerbraten and potatoes, long draughts of dark beer, romantic poetry and Bach chorales. He talked of New England boiled dinners and baked beans, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and skylight filtering through clear, freshly-washed, church-window panes.

Later, Rev. Powell and wife Eleonore would be “people of risky adventure” who would “exemplify courageous leadership in Open and Affirming Ministry” as supporters of their daughter Lois (Loey) Powell, a lesbian ordained in 1978. Parents and daughter would each serve as highly visible leaders along the UCC journey toward full inclusion.

Loey Powell graduated from Pacific School of Religion in 1977, the same “rash and courageous” institution that had witnessed Bill Johnson’s dining-hall speech seven years earlier. Echoing her father’s “heady, exasperating, and hopeful” sentiment, Powell remembers her seminary days as filled with the exhilaration of movement politics. She had come out early in her seminary life, and fondly remembers the bay area UCC gay caucus that gathered for monthly potlucks and nationally at UCC General Synods: “incredibly spirit-filled worship, doing the justice-making work of advocacy, being there for those who were wondering about their sexuality.” Like the sun piercing the fog over San Francisco Bay, feminism, liberation theology, and gay rights burned through the timbered halls of the seminary. And it wasn’t just the seminary. The Northern California Conference of the UCC was in the vanguard of hope, alive with possibilities.

Powell was ordained with two other lesbian classmates, but they were not officially out to the candidacy committee although they were out to friends and the seminary community. Thus, the status of first open lesbian to be ordained in the UCC falls to Rev. Ann Holmes in 1982. Nevertheless, as the daughter of an esteemed elder, Loey Powell immediately became the “poster lesbian” of the UCC.  By the end of the decade, she served as co-coordinator with Rev. Bill Johnson as the UCC Coalition grew in size and status.

Lois PowellHowever, it took a number of years before a traditional congregation took a chance on calling her to pastoral ministry. Then a breakthrough in 1989. For the first time in any ecumenical denomination, an openly gay clergyperson was called as sole pastor to a traditional ministry through the normal call process. Pastor Powell would remain at United Church of Tallahassee for seven fruitful years of ministry before accepting a position in the UCC home office in Cleveland, where she has continued to serve, most recently on the Justice and Witness Ministry Team as Executive for Administration.

 

This is the tenth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

Chris Glaser: Presbyterian and pan-denominational leader

At the 1976 Presbyterian General Assembly, More Light Presbyterian founder David Bailey Sindt was joined by others, including seminarians Bill Silver and Chris Glaser. In fact, Silver’s candidacy for ordination through the New York Presbytery was on the agenda because the presbytery was uncertain how to respond to his ordination request, and they kicked it upstairs to the General Assembly for “definitive guidance.” The assembly responded by creating a task force to study, solicit churchwide input, and report back. Openly gay seminarian Chris Glaser was appointed to the task force.

The public hearings across the country were tedious at best and homophobic at worst, and Glaser later wrote.

Yet many of us on the task force found the hearings frustrating: we had already learned so much that we found ourselves astounded and exasperated by the ignorance of the majority of those who testified … Many attacked us for being on the task force, questioning our own morals, character, and judgment … Our faith and our intelligence were offended as person after person used their time (and ours) to read from a dusty Bible its handful of verses presumed to be about homosexuality–as if we hadn’t heard them before, as if we couldn’t recite them verbatim!

After more than a year of study and dialogue, it was time to prepare a report to be submitted to the 1978 General Assembly for consideration and action. Fourteen members supported an inclusive majority report

May a self-affirming, practicing homosexual Christian be ordained? We believe so, if the person manifests such gifts as are required for ordination …

Five dissenters supported a restrictive minority report:

That no possibility for the ordination of a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person should be granted …

When the report became public, conservative opposition mobilized and when General Assembly 1978 rolled around, they were ready. The majority report was quickly rejected, and the commissioners (delegates) went beyond the minority report, adopting a resolution with a 90% majority stating,

“homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” [and] “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.”

This resolution would control Presbyterian policy for a generation.

Chris GlaserGlaser’s path to Presbyterian ordination had encountered an insurmountable roadblock. He diverted into non-ordained ministry. He founded and directed The Lazarus Project, an LGBT ministry in Los Angeles. He remained an active leader of More Light Presbyterians and contributed as editor and writer for More Light Update and later, Open Hands Magazine, an award-winning pan-denominational publication. He also penned numerous books; to date, a dozen have been published. Finally, in 2005 he was ordained, but through the Metropolitan Community Churches rather than the Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Glaser continues to write, speak, and lead workshops and retreats, and his latest offerings can be found here. Chris has also been an invaluable source and fact checker for my own work, and his endorsement will appear on the book’s back cover:

Queer Clergy is a comprehensive, carefully documented, and highly readable account of a movement that transformed mainline Protestant denominations into more welcoming spiritual communities for LGBT Christians. There is still much work to do, but Holmen’s well-written history reminds us of our basis for hope.

This is the ninth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

Catching up with two lesbian pilgrims: Amy DeLong and Lisa Larges

Rev. Amy DeLong and Lisa Larges, two pilgrims who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, popped up in Facebook links today.

Methodist Pastor Amy DeLong, whose ecclesiastical trial fills later pages of the book, offered a Youtube video following her monitoring of the weeklong Methodist Council of Bishops. She was disappointed in their failure of leadership. “We need to start calling them followers and not leaders,” she said. In an earlier writing, which is quoted in the book, she noted ecclesiastical handwringing and used the metaphor of the “weeping executioner.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIW8Rh8fAHw

Lisa Larges was also the subject of ecclesiastical judicial wrangling—twice. Her path toward ordination in the Twin Cities Presbytery was thwarted by the Presbyterian courts in the nineties. Fifteen years later she tried again, and her attempt was bottled up in the courts once more, but then the General Assembly finally eliminated LGBT clergy exclusion thereby rendering the court case moot, and she is again on track for ordination. She penned a poignant retrospective in a guest blog post on ecclesio.com which reflects upon the Presbyterian wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Her post begins:

What I’m wondering now, some two years after the vote in my denomination, (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) to remove the bar to ordination for lgbt persons, what I’m wondering now as someone who is a part of that lgbt community, what I’m wondering now, even as we live out the denouement of that struggle, with churches leaving and the question of marriage for same gender couples still before us, what I’m wondering now, remembering those forty some years of conflict—remembering the parliamentary maneuverings and high stakes votes and judicial actions and attempts toward dialogue and church-wide studies and appointed task forces and—what I’m wondering now, feeling the weight of the needless pain that we, as a church inflicted, what I’m wondering now is: Could we have done it better? Across that forty-year span, could we have worked out our differences with less rancor and divisiveness and objectivizing and bad behavior and fear of one another?

Read the rest here.

Dr. Louie Crew (Clay): founder of Integrity

Louie Crew (young)In October 1974, a few select Episcopalians around the country discovered a newsletter in their mailboxes bearing a postmark from Fort Valley, the county seat of Peach County, Georgia. The newsletter was called Integrity: Gay Episcopal Forum and was circulated solely by Louie Crew, a young gay man just beginning his career as an English professor.

Almost immediately, Crew received two calls from interested persons; coincidentally, they were both from Chicago although they were strangers to each other, one a priest and the other a lay person. With Crew’s encouragement from afar, those two and other gays from Chicago organized the first chapter of Integrity during a meeting in December 1974. The following summer, the first national gathering convened in Chicago.

Crew’s salary as a young English professor at a small state college was minimal, but he had the benefit of paid airfare to attend seminars and conferences. He would pocket the airfare and travel to the conferences by Greyhound, stopping frequently along the way to network with bishops and others. The road toward full inclusion included bumpy bus rides.

By the 1976 General Convention in Minneapolis, Integrity had spread across the country with chapters in many cities; representatives of Integrity had been well received by official church spokesmen; and church leaders were accommodating to Integrity during the convention. In addition to the momentous revisions to the canons to allow women’s ordination to the priesthood, the 1976 General Convention also acted favorably on LGBT measures, including a resolution stating:

that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

A “full and equal claim” is pretty heady stuff, but following the ordination of lesbian Ellen Marie Barrett in January, 1977, the pendulum swung. Big time. Dr. Crew called the 1979 General Convention, “the height of homophobia.”

Dr. Crew continued as an Integrity leader/activist over the years, often serving as a deputy (delegate) at conventions. After the 1994 General Convention adopted an odious resolution, his weeping conversation with Bishop Spong in the hotel hallway inspired the bishop to write through the night, and the resulting “Statement of Koinonia” marked a breakthrough. When the Episcopal progressives were getting pummeled at Lambeth 1998, Dr. Crew arranged for flowers to be delivered to London. When gay Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003, Dr. Crew was one of the laity presenters. He has received several honorary doctoral degrees. At the 2012 General Convention, Integrity honored him for his lifetime of service, and the line at the reception for folks to have their picture taken with him wound around the room. And, of great importance to me, Dr. Crew served as my principal Episcopal source and fact-checker.

Louie and ErnestAbout the same time that he sent out his first Integrity newsletter, he fell in love with Ernest Clay, and they have been a happy couple to the present. They recently were married, and Louie Crew is now Louie Clay.

 

 

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

Steve Webster and the first gathering of gay Methodists

I first met Methodist Steve Webster at the 2010 Wisconsin Annual Conference gathering in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was sheer serendipity. I was there hawking my novel about Paul the apostle, and the exhibit hall organizer happened to place me next to Kairos CoMotion, a Wisconsin-based Methodist LGBT group. Webster and his husband, Jim Dietrich, set up  the booth and returned regularly between plenary sessions; we had plenty of time to become acquainted.

Two years later, I was researching the formation of the first Methodist LGBT activist group for Queer Clergy. In Chicago, I met with Morris Floyd, who had been present at the 1978 gathering of gay and lesbian Methodists, and with Mark Bowman, whose involvement began in 1980, but I knew that the first gathering of LGBT Methodists occurred at a church near Northwestern University in 1975. Who had been there? Who knew about the initial formation of the gay Methodist caucus?

Steve Webster’s name came up. The same Steve Webster I knew from Wisconsin?

I arranged to have brunch with Steve and Jim near their home in Madison, Wisconsin. Yes, it turns out, Steve had been there. In fact, he had organized that first gathering of gay Methodists!

In 1974, a New York Times headline stated, “Methodists Reject Homosexual’s Ordination Bid.” Steve Webster was that rejected Methodist, and the roadblock in his journey to ordained ministry diverted him into the ministry of an activist.

“I got a hold of one of those old mimeograph stencils and rolled it into my Smith-Corona typewriter and carefully typed up a flyer about the meeting.”

Using return addresses from the letters of support he received after the NY Times article, he mailed the flyer as an invitation to an organizational meeting. That 1975 meeting of around twenty gay Methodists at Wheadon UMC in Evanston, Illinois, marked  the birth of “The United Methodist Gay Caucus,” soon to be renamed “Affirmation,” and “The Reconciling Congregation Project” would be a later outgrowth in the 1980s.

Steven WebsterHundreds of UMC congregations across the country and many regional annual conferences are now members of the Reconciling Ministries Network, the offspring organization of that initial gathering in Chicago. Though there have been significant local and regional advances, national LGBT policy remains oppressive due to the overriding conservatism of international delegates to UMC General Conference. At the last General Conference in Tampa in 2012, 38% of the delegates were international, and they formed a solid bloc to prevent change in the oppressive denominational policies.

Over the decades, Webster’s beard, pony tail, and rainbow bandana have become well-known at regional and national Methodist conferences; he has participated in “direct action” protests organized by Soulforce; and he has penned letters to UMC leaders.

I saw Steve and Jim at the 2012 General Conference.  Jim said to me, “We’ve been together for over twenty years, and I have only seen Steve cry once. This week, when it became clear that our church was going backwards, not forward, I saw him cry again.” Jim’s own eyes misted. “At a worship service of our gay community, Steve said, ‘I won’t see it happen in my lifetime,’ and then he bawled like I’ve never seen.”

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

David Bailey Sindt: Is anybody else out there gay?

Is Anybody Else Out There Gay?

David Bailey SindtRev. David Bailey Sindt, a gay Presbyterian pastor, provoked the 1974 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church when he asked this question with a sign held high. Pastor Sindt’s sign was no mere whim. It was part of a calculated strategy, a “ministry of presence,” that Sindt and other LGBT activists within the ecumenical denominations would pursue. By their openness and their presence, they implicitly proclaimed, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re Presbyterian (or Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or Methodist, or UCC), but we’re not merely the gay issue; we’re flesh and blood human beings.”

Pastor Sindt’s assertive coming out serves as the pan-denominational theme for the seventies, and his courageous action at the General Assembly is credited as the birth of More Light Presbyterians. In the heady movement days of the early seventies, Sindt and Rev. Bill Johnson served on a task force originating with the San Francisco Council on Religion and Homosexuality and recognized by the National Council of Churches. The task force served as resource for the startups of denominational advocacy groups. In 1975 Sindt met with the organizers of the first gathering of gay Methodists, and Sindt was present as resource person during the first national gathering of Integrity, the Episcopal advocacy group, that same year. Three task force members served as resource persons at the 1974 Minneapolis gathering that birthed Lutherans Concerned.

As the decade wound down, Sindt was joined by gay seminarians Bill Silver and Chris Glaser as leaders of More Light Presbyterians. Silver’s request for ordination in the New York Presbytery was kicked upstairs to the General Assembly for “definitive guidance.” The General Assembly responded with the creation of a task force that included Glaser as a member. The task force eventually submitted a gay-friendly report to the 1978 General Assembly, but commissioners (delegates) rejected the report and overwhelmingly rendered definitive guidance that stated, “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” and “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.” Subsequent decades would witness ecclesiastical trials that extended the scope and effect of this “definitive guidance.”

Pastor Sindt continued his advocacy efforts until his life was cut short as an early victim of the AIDS epidemic in 1986. David lived alone, but his church friends formed a team to care for him in his home during the last months of his life. Each evening, someone prepared dinner, and they shared the meal. His former congregation continues this ministry by taking a Sunday evening meal to the residents of a Chicago House facility. David’s own home became the first Chicago House residence owned by the agency. More Light Presbyterians has named their annual service award after Pastor Sindt. He was one of 13 persons inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Wednesday, October 25, 1995, at the Cultural Center in Chicago.

 

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

James Siefkes: straight ally and founder of Lutherans Concerned

A straight ally, Lutheran Pastor James Siefkes, a “rather rotund church executive” in the home offices of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), a predecessor to the ELCA, was the principal inspiration for the founding of “Lutherans Concerned for Gay People” in 1974. That’s the short version; here are the details. Well, even what follows is a condensed version; read Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism for the full story, woven into an overarching narrative.

Pastor SiefkesAfter a couple of stops as a parish pastor, Iowan James Siefkes landed in the western regional office of the ALC in Palo Alto, California. Rev. Siefkes was a third-generation Lutheran pastor after his father and grandfather. Serving in the San Francisco area during the tumultuous 1960s, Siefkes developed a program designed to introduce clergy and spouses to hot-button issues such as the Vietnam war, campus riots, runaway youth, drugs, and more. His Matrix program offered the streets of San Francisco as Petri dish for clergy to examine life on the edge.

I would set up a program, take maybe thirty, forty people and move them into the YMCA in the Tenderloin in San Francisco and, then, would try to introduce them to what was going on in the Bay Area at that time.

Matrix came to the attention of the ALC home office in Minneapolis, and Pastor Siefkes was offered a position to develop something similar; he was to establish and lead a new ALC department to be called, “Congregational Social Concerns.” So far, so good, but when he invited approximately sixty persons from the Twin Cities (Lutheran and Catholic Social Services, ALC executives, an ALC bishop, the YMCA, the University of Minnesota Medical School, and more) to a seminar to evaluate the potential for ministry in the area of human sexuality, “the milieu heated up,” according to Siefkes. In particular, the scandalized director of Catholic Social Services published an unfriendly report in Commonweal magazine entitled, “Sex, Sex, Sex!”

Undeterred, Siefkes successfully sought a small ALC appropriation of a few thousand dollars:

To enable at least one national meeting of up to twenty ALC homosexual persons plus 5 resource persons to discuss their sexual orientation and their relationship because of it, to society and their church; to the end that they may address the church and the church might respond to them and become less a source of oppression to ALC and other persons with homosexual orientation.

Earlier, Siefkes had been interviewed by a reporter from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Howard Erickson, who was a closeted gay man who also published in the gay periodical, The Advocate, under the pseudonym, Bjorn Bjornson. Erickson’s Advocate article introduced Siefkes to the gay community as an ally, and Siefkes used contacts he attained following that article to invite around twenty gay and lesbian persons to an inaugural meeting in Minneapolis in June 1974. Five persons actually attended the weekend event, including reporter Erickson. Siefkes himself stepped back and let the five persons plus three facilitators conduct the meeting themselves.

On Sunday evening, June 16, 1974, Siefkes and his wife, Sally, joined the others for a social event and report at a professor’s home near the University of Minnesota campus. When he arrived, he learned that Lutherans Concerned had been born, the LGBT advocacy group that would grown in size and strength and become the lobbying force that encouraged the ELCA to revise its attitude and policies toward gays and lesbians. Five LGBT Lutherans and three facilitators would have “an impact way out of proportion to their numbers.” Sort of like five fishes and two loaves.

The conservative Lutheran press picked up on the story and lambasted the “Dollars for Disobedience” appropriation. By printing copies of the organizational newsletter, including the subscription form, the conservative publication unwittingly helped to spread the word. Four years later at the first national gathering of Lutherans Concerned, reporter Erickson would reminisce, “We five had our differences, all right, but it started to look like this nestling we’d hatched just might be around for awhile.”

In 1992, Lutherans Concerned established the Jim Siefkes Justice-Maker Award, to recognize superior and tireless efforts of straight allies on behalf of LGBT Lutherans. Siefkes himself was honored with the 2010 Peace and Justice Award from the Hawkinson Foundation. The award honors individuals or couples who have made significant and sustained contributions to peace and justice. Now retired, Siefkes remains in Minneapolis and helped me with background information to the founding of Lutherans Concerned (now ReconcilingWorks).

 

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

Ellen Marie Barrett: Ordained as an Episcopal Priest in 1977

Ellen Marie BarrettIn 1970, the Episcopal General Convention authorized diaconal ordination for women, a non-sacerdotal role. Two years later, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, interviewed Ellen Marie Barrett, an early female candidate for ordination to the diaconate.

I asked her to sit down on the sofa across from the wing chair where I usually sit when someone comes to see me. Ellen is tall, with dark brown hair conservatively styled. She, like many tall people, stoops a little as she walks. Her most arresting feature is her eyes, which appear honest, deep, and welcoming … In conversation, she seems rather soft, until the discussion finds its way into an area of faith or conviction. Then you strike rock.

Though the progressive bishop was impressed with Barrett, he did not recommend her for ordination to the diaconate because she was an out lesbian. Barrett attended seminary. When she finished in 1975, she again asked Bishop Moore to approve her for ordination to the diaconate. He relented, and she was ordained a deacon in December, 1975 before a few church ladies, a few students, and her proud Southern mother. The ordination barely disturbed the church mice even though Barrett had been elected co-president of Integrity, an Episcopal LGBT advocacy group, at its inaugural national meeting earlier that year.

The following summer, the Episcopal General Convention went further; church canons were revised to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood, and many lined up for ordination when the policy would become effective in January, 1977. Deacon Barrett was among the hopeful women, but she and Bishop Moore weren’t prepared for the firestorm that awaited them. TV networks were there for her January ordination, which was a Time Magazine feature story.

The bishop and the lesbian priest were hounded mercilessly with calls, letters, and rejection. The last years of the decade of the seventies degenerated into the “height of homophobia” within the Episcopal Church. Barrett didn’t have a comfortable career and faced crushing depression. Eventually, she joined the Order of St. Benedict as Sister Bernadette.

Sister BernadetteIn researching her story, I located her in the Diocese of Newark, and I asked her to comment. Months passed, and I heard nothing. Then, a long email arrived. With Sister Bernadette’s permission, the entire email appears as a poignant coda to the Episcopal section of my book.

Here’s a snippet:

 

Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now? That’s not a question that can possibly have an answer. Today is a very different time. I have no idea whether God would have moulded my combination of weakness, pig-headedness, and some talent into what another time would need. I was what I was, and I did what I did, in the context of a particular time and socio-political climate.

Am I still convinced it was the right thing to do? Yes. Done the right way by the right person? Who knows? It is what it is. And priesthood is as much a part of me as green eyes and once black hair turning white.

I am a priest forever. That’s all.

 

This is the fourth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1970 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1972 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)