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.
About 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 Clergy. As 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)