Tag Archives: Non fiction

Cast of Characters Countdown: Ann B. Day

Somerset, Massachusetts, is a working class community south of Boston. A 1970s neighborhood women’s softball team with “E R A” emblazoned across their T-shirts would prove to be far more powerful than mere athletic exploits on the field would indicate. They were not sponsored by a laundry detergent as many assumed; instead, they were feminists and supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment. The team included several women who would become major players in the LGBT movement for full inclusion: Carter Heyward, irregularly ordained as an Episcopal priest (one of the Philadelphia Eleven) and later a leading lesbian theologian; Mary Glasspool, the first lesbian to be consecrated as an Episcopal Bishop in 2010; and UCC pastor rosi olmstead (she prefers no capitals) and her partner Marnie Warner, the team manager, would pioneer the UCC Open and Affirming movement (ONA).

After the Presbyterians in 1978, the Methodists in 1982, and the Lutherans in 1983, the UCC would join the welcoming church movement in 1985. In this case, it was not the UCC that took the lead … or was it? The movement in the sister denominations was always an outsider program promoted by the various homophile organizations in critical tension with denominational policies. For the UCC, ONA would not be an extrinsic program of the Coalition–it would be an intrinsic policy of the UCC itself–though once established, it would be administered by the Coalition beginning in 1987. Marnie Warner and Pastor Ann B. Day were the delegates who shepherded a Massachusetts open and affirming resolution through the snares of General Synod in 1985. Later, the UCC LGBT advocacy group, the Coalition, provided the structure and the funding for implementation of the ONA program, and Pastor Day and her partner, Donna Enberg, became the face of the program, as well as its hands and feet.

Raised as a Southern Presbyterian and with Methodist and Lutheran family members from the Shenandoah Valley, Ann B. Day was ordained following graduation from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1978. For the next three years, she served as associate pastor at First Congregational Church UCC of Holden, a small city located in the center of Massachusetts between Boston and the Springfield/Hartford area. In 1980, her partner, Donna Enberg, entered her life, and they would later be married after Massachusetts law changed decades later.

In 1987 when the Coalition assumed responsibility for funding and administering the ONA project, Day and Enberg took over and would serve as staff and inspiration for the next twenty years; they would be much more than merely the “keepers of the list.” Under their leadership, the movement established a structure, a network of ONA churches, and a method of joining. Along the way, Day and Enberg developed resource materials, including sample resolutions, films, study packets, books, and articles.

AnnBDayMostly, Day and Enberg encouraged intentionality and articulated the rationale for joining the movement. To the oft-heard refrain, “our congregation already welcomes everybody,” Pastor Day responded that the actual experience of gays and lesbians had often been rejection, even when a congregation claimed “all are welcome,” and thus an intentional statement of affirmation was necessary to counter low expectations.

The ONA program has continued its vital ministry to the present, and currently numbers over 1,100 UCC congregations containing 275,000 members.

Cast of characters countdown: Lois Powell

“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)

Cast of characters countdown: Steve Webster

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 is the seventh 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)

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)