In Memory of Rev Reginald Olson–Ever the Teacher, Ever the Preacher. A former chair of the board of the Parents Reconciling Network Steering Committee:
In 1988, Reg and Barbara Olson learned from their beautiful, talented daughter that she realized she was lesbian. Thus began their journey from immediate to extended family, from local church to the whole denomination, and from church to secular institutions.
Joy Watts, former board member of the PRN Steering Committee wrote in 2012, “I am nominating Reg and Barbara Olson for the Hilton Award in recognition of their great effort to motivate the United Methodist Church to move from “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” to inclusiveness and equality for GLBTQ people. In addition they have done invaluable community work and been surrogate parents for gay people whose parents could not accept that they were gay. They have invested a huge amount of their energies and resources to this work. Was it easy? Was it popular? No. Did it early on contribute to health issues, such as cardiac problems and panic attacks? Yes. Did that stop them? No. They have always found a way and a place to continue their work. (In his retirement, Reg was working at a Presbyterian church. No doubt he was spreading his inclusive gospel there too.)”
Reg had five degrees: Bachelor of Arts (OSU), Bachelor of Divinity (Garrett), Master of Arts (OSU), PhD in Sociology (OSU), Master of Social Work (WVU)
Three children: Beth Olson (Shelly Davis), Stephanie Kleinschmidt (Rick), Jeff Olson (Gabby)
Five grandchildren: Alex, Parker, Connor, Sofia, Kendall
Reg taught as a sociology professor at Muskingum College and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
He was a social worker and community leader, and did lots of work for Butler County and Ohio Democrats.
Reg was Director of the Campus Ministry Center and Wesley Foundation at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
He was ever the preacher and teacher.
Initially, Reg had to be cautious since some of the funding for the Campus Ministry Center and Wesley Foundation at Miami University came from the United Methodist Church, which had threatened to deny funding to any church organization that discussed or studied the issue of homosexuality. Nonetheless, he was able to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for students and community members who participated in activities at the Campus Ministry Center.
In 1999, Reg wrote an article “What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality” for use by students and others.
In 2000, Reg and Barb were protesting at General Conference in Cleveland. Ever the educators, they shared that experience with their local congregation and others. They supplied the coalition information table with two of Barbara’s articles and one of Reg’s (a comparison between the conversion of Saul/Paul and Bishop Tuell) and also distributed them to delegates. They wore “My Child is of Sacred Worth” badge.
By 2003, they had co-authored a book OPEN THE DOORS! It not only told their story, but contains a lot of UMC history pertaining to homosexuality and other useful information from hate crimes to Bishop Tuell’s sermon “Doing a New Thing,” to the Heterosexual Questionnaire which shows the ridiculousness of some of the common approaches to homosexuality, to a questionnaire Reg created for a church to judge how truly welcoming it was to LGBTQ people. In an amazing effort, including the help of a church, they sent their book to all of the 2004 General Conference Delegates. They were also helping to coordinate the witness of the parents and wore and distributed the first (I believe) PRN rainbow stoles and the “My Child Is of Sacred Worth” badges.
By 2005, they were co-chairs of PRN and led a wonderful pre-convo day at Lake Junaluska.
As co-chairs of PRN, and also in the effort to spur the work for inclusion in North Central Jurisdiction and East and West Ohio, they expended great amounts of time, energy, money. For several East and West Ohio conferences, they rented a house they dubbed The Progressive House, for a place to gather, worship, and plan. They shouldered most of the expense and offered amazing hospitality.
For the jurisdictional and PRN meetings, Barb always went to the effort of finding a host church and families for us to stay with, and even coordinated some of the meals in an effort to hold down costs but also as a way to witness to the church and families. They hosted one meeting in their retirement community. They were hosts par excellence, as they always were when folks visited their home.
When I traveled with them to meetings, I learned of their work in civil rights and knew that that work no doubt led to courage in LGBTQ work. Reg is one of those who had been present at Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Together they represented NSI (Not So Impossible) Dream Catchers, an educational consulting firm. Their mediation experience included service to the Butler Juvenile Court, Conflict Resolution Service, Inc. and work in a variety of church and community settings.
Reg and Barb were also founders of a chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). In 2001-2002, they led their PFLAG to form a coalition with 20 other organizations to form a Safe Schools Coalition, which led an in-service training for teachers, an evening public forum, and a workshop Freedom for All From Bullying and Harassment. It involved coalition-building, grant writing, and much time and effort.
They also participated in Equality Ohio’s faith coalition and have given speeches to community organizations.
I became aware of the support they have offered young people whose parents don’t accept that they are gay, when one of the young men drove to our meeting in Chicago to see Barb and Reg and brought us all homemade banana bread!
For all the good work they have done and energy they have invested, I would like to nominate Barbara and Rev. Dr. Reginald Olson for the PRN Hilton Award.