Tag Archives: UCC

California, here I come

Here’s my itinerary for a week-long speaking and book signing tour out west. Presumably, weather won’t interfere like it did for my recent Chicago tour.

Old First Presbyterian San Francisco

The tour starts with a visit to a historic congregation in the heart of San Francisco. Organized in 1849, Old First claims to be the oldest Protestant congregation in California. Pam Byers, formerly executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a congregational elder, is handling the arrangements. I’ll be there Monday, March 31, at 7:30 pm.

Pacific School of Religion Berkeley

On Tuesday, I’ll cross the Bay to Berkeley and climb “Holy Hill” to the Pacific School of Religion where I’ll be hosted by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry and Religion (CLGS). CLGS will soon enter its fifteenth year of “creative scholarship on the interrelations of religion and sexuality / sexual orientation.” I’ll speak in the Bade Museum beginning at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 1.

St. Mark Presbyterian Newport Beach

After midweek visits with seldom-seen family and friends, I’ll start a busy weekend in greater LA with a book signing event on Friday, April 4, at 7:00 pm. St. Mark is a thriving, 50-year-old suburban congregation that retains a heart for mission.

Bethel Lutheran Church Los Angeles

For a congregation that features Sanctuary Yoga and Sanctuary Hula, an author book signing may be a bit tame. I’ll visit Bethel on Saturday, April 5, at 7:00 pm.

Claremont United Church of Christ

I’ll preach at both services on Sunday morning, April 6 with informal book discussions after each service. This congregation dates to the nineteenth century when it was the only Protestant church in this college town nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. Many of the parishioners are residents of Pilgrim Place “an intellectually/theologically stimulating, ecologically sensitive, personally active environment.”

Claremont United Methodist Church

I’ll move across town for a Sunday afternoon 2:30 event hosted by the local reconciling community. Several of my contacts recommended this congregation as an appropriate venue because of its strong record of support for the LGBT community.

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)