Affirmation and Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) celebrate the life of Ellie Charlton, a devoted advocate for LGBTQ+ justice in the full life and ministries of The United Methodist Church. Says Mark Bowman of the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, and formerly of Affirmation and RMN: “It must have been the work of the Spirit that transformed this suburban church lady into a fierce warrior for LGBTQ+ justice. Ellie Charlton could do no small thing.”
Ellie is survived by her devoted partner Bev Reddick – a fellow activist and changemaker. The two met in 2006 at an Affirmation spiritual growth retreat. When Bev retired from justice work as deaconess, the two moved to Brooks Howell Home owned and operated by United Methodist Women (UMW) in Asheville, North Carolina. Early in her career, Ellie served as district president of the UMW and chair of the Council on Ministries.
Not all firebrands look the part, and I loved this about her.”Randall Miller
Before Ellie met Bev, she was partnered to the late Jeanne Barnett. Ellie and Jeanne met in 1984, and in 1985, they attended a national Affirmation meeting together – Ellie’s introduction to the caucus group. Both Ellie and Jeanne became deeply involved in Affirmation’s growth and ministries. Ellie eventually became Affirmation’s treasurer.
Ellie and Jeanne were together for 15 years before they participated in a ceremony of “holy union” in 1999. The service challenged The UMC’s ban on same-sex weddings. Co-officiants included 68 clergy from the California-Nevada Conference with charges brought against them, former LGBTQ+ clergy who had surrendered their orders, and other allied clergy. The members of every Reconciling Congregation in the Sacramento, CA, area received an invitation, as did the members of women’s and LGBTQ+ groups to which Ellie and Jeanne devoted their time. Hundreds attended, and countless more were inspired by Ellie and Jeanne’s ceremony and devotion. Affirmation and RMN are the organizations they are today because of Ellie’s advocacy.
Randall Miller, LGBTQ+ justice advocate and friend to Affirmation, says of Ellie: “What I loved about Ellie was her genuine warmth and her sweet nature. If you didn’t know better, you might miss that underlying this demeanor was a fierce determination and commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. Not all firebrands look the part, and I loved this about her.”
Says Mark: “Ellie was not discreet about her identity and her loves; she boldly wore purple and rainbow colors and symbols of her passions for all the world to see. She was a fierce friend who cultivated and nurtured many treasured relationships over the years. Ellie’s incredible generosity enabled many projects and initiatives advocating for LGBTQ+ persons in religious circles. Ellie’s boundless energy, spirit and passion were gifts to everyone who knew her. I will certainly miss her greatly.”
RMN Executive Director Jan Lawrence says: “I was immediately drawn to Ellie and Bev’s warmth, their love for each other, and their passion for justice work. The world is a better place because of Ellie Charlton.”
Ann Craig, co-spokesperson of Affirmation, adds: “Ellie Charlton was a vital example of the truism, ‘the personal is political.’ Her willingness to be married by dozens of clergy celebrated both the depth of her love for Jeanne and her love for The United Methodist Church. Even retiring as a lesbian couple to Brooks Howell, which is where many UMC missionaries retire, was a witness to the need for justice in the denomination. Ellie provided leadership and ongoing support for Affirmation. The council members of Affirmation are proud of Ellie’s impact on The United Methodist Church. We express our condolences to her partner Bev and to all those who were part of Ellie’s life.”