As one of the first women to be ordained in The United Methodist Church, Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers made a significant mark on the church early in her life. Over the years, her ministry and witness continued to unfold in ways that would challenge the denomination to practice deeper integrity, justice, and inclusion.
In a landmark sermon in 1995 at the fourth national convocation of Reconciling Ministries Network in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rev. Powers came out as a lesbian. To great applause she stated, “As long as the phrases ‘homosexuality and the Christian faith are incompatible’ and ‘celibacy in singleness’ continue to stand in our Discipline, no matter how these phrases are introduced or framed, our church is on record as perpetuating heterosexism in its life and homophobia in its teaching.” To her dying day, she remained passionate about the work of justice for LGBTQ persons in The United Methodist Church.
Her prophetic life and ministry served to advance hope, courage, and community to straight cisgender women and the LGBTQ community alike–two overlapping and yet distinct communities whose role models and examples of bold leadership in The United Methodist Church were minimal for so long due to prohibitions and discrimination.
Rev. Powers was well known for her commitment to building leaders in the church who were advocates not only for LGBTQ justice, but for all who were being targeted and displaced. She believed in deeply grounding this work in her faith–in scripture, theology, and Christian ethics. She modeled what it looks like to stay true to one’s faith beliefs even when the church becomes the oppressor, even in the face of significant risk, and even when few others share in the journey.
Rev. Dr. Bonnie Beckonchrist, friend and colleague in ministry, reflected on Rev. Powers’ impact by saying, “Friends and colleagues alike knew that Jeanne Audrey had little patience with small talk in both personal conversations adn institutional ones. If she thought they descended into chit-chat, she would simply interrupt by saying ‘let me change the subject.’ Then Jeanne Audrey would take us deep. Not only did she have important insights, but she widened those conversations also. She’ll be forever missed.”
In 2013, Rev. Powers wrote that her heart was grieved as she recognized she would “likely die before The United Methodist Church changes its policies of exclusion.” A painful foretelling, she is one of many queer saints who offered their life to a church that, even in their death, holds them “incompatible with Christian teaching.” She, like so many other courageous LGBTQ elders contributed invaluable gifts to the church and led compelling, relevant, and life-changing forms of ministry.
The ripple effect of Rev. Powers’ life extends into generations of LGBTQ people and allies who find in her courageous contributions to the movement a glimpse of hope and an invitation to carry the mantle forward.
As we celebrate her well-lived life of justice-seeking ministry, we carry forward the comfort and challenge of her words: “as Christians, we seek to overcome powers and principalities of this world, even when they are the church itself. We need to work to end these unjust policies. My comfort is in the scriptures that tell us that while we may not live in the promised land, we shall see it.”