On All Saints Sunday, we invited the Network to share their stories of the saints in their own lives, past or present, who have worked for LGBTQ inclusion or other matters of justce.These saints, their stories and their lives are a powerful reminder of the ones who brought us thus far.
My name is Jerry Miller. I am an openly gay United Methodist Minister, actor, writer, director, producer living in Chicago. In the ’70s I was just starting to come out. I was living in Dallas and was invited to a party with the openly gay football player Dave Kopay and Sargent Leonard Matlovich.
Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich was a Vietnam War veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight their ban on gays, and perhaps the best-known gay man in America in the 1970s next to Harvey Milk. His fight to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out of the closet became a cause célèbre around which the gay community rallied. His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of gay and lesbian servicemembers and gay people generally.
I remember Leonard talking to the group. But even more important he went around and introduced himself to everyone there. Hugging them and giving them a kiss and supporting and encouraging people to live out their destiny and be proud. He was so giving. He was a model for humanity. Leonard was out and proud and served as a model for hope. I will never forget my encounter with him.
My step-brother, Doug DeYoung, died of AIDS in the summer of 1985. He was comptroller of the Democratic Party in California, esp. in his Belmont district. Just before he died, he told his story to the San Francisco Examiner, a courageous thing to do in the mid-80s when fear of AIDS and ignorance of the gay lifestyle informed public opinion. At his funeral, the Democrats, including his Representative Tom Lantos, the environmentalists, the gay motor cycle gang, members of the Metropolitan Community Church, neighbors and us, his Kansas relatives–including a cousin who read his story in the newspaper, gathered to remember a man who touched so many different lives. His friends honored his memory with a block on the AIDS quilt, and when our own son came out to us some ten years later, Doug’s example, helped us to understand David’s struggle.
Bishop Mel Wheatley is as close to a saint as we have in The UMC. When my ordination was going to be taken away by the Western Pennsylvania Conference in 1980, Bishop Wheatley called me and asked if I wanted to be a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference. He and his wife, Lucille, met me at the airport, I stayed in their home and Bishop Wheatley stated to his cabinet his intention to transfer me into the conference with or without their permission. After that the discussion was how best to not whether to. He told a moving personal story before the BOM voted on my elder’s orders which I am sure made a difference and then he ordained me an elder in 1982 as the first openly gay or lesbian person to be ordained in the UMC. He was brought up on charges which were dismissed. He risked his career for me and all the lesbian and gay clergy who have come after. I will be forever grateful to him and Lucille.
Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown
My personal saint is Steve Heiss, former (now retired) pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, NY. He personally heeded the call to Biblical Obedience by his commitment of living Christ’s message of love and equality right in our own Church. He was not only unafraid to defy the Church Book of Discipline to support marriage equality, but he openly and bravely wrote to the Bishop saying he was performing same-gender weddings and calling for more inclusion (and it almost cost him his ministry credentials). He worked tirelessly to ensure Tabernacle was a holy place of inclusion, diversity, reassurance, and unconditional love by ensuring all who entered our doors, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity would be truly free to experience God’s healing grace.
On a more personal level, it was because of Pastor Steve, and the community at Tabernacle Church that I was able to let go of my deeply held guilt, and fear rooted in me from my days in the Catholic Church. Steve’s continual reassurance that God creates us in diversity and loves us exactly the way we are was what finally allowed me to view my gender identity as a gift from God and something to be celebrated instead of ashamed of, and finally begin my transition and journey from Thom to Kristen.
My dear brother Michael came out in 1970, when he was 15 years old. Our family accepted him, but his beloved Methodist church seemed to reject him. He was a 5th generation Texas Methodist. He struggled with his spirituality and attempted to find acceptance in other religions. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he was lead to Bering Memorial United Methodist church in Houston. The church embraced him and offered counseling and support for him and other AIDS patients. He began to sing in the choir and actively participate in his Methodist church, once again. Michael went to graduate school and received a Masters in Social Work. He began working with the AIDS ministry at Bering. He was grateful to give back to the church, who loved and celebrated him. Michael was vocal about being a gay Methodist. He refused to be kept out of God’s church.
Montrose Counseling Center hired him to train hospice volunteers and counsel the LGBT population. Part of his ministry was to invite those who had been rejected by their church to worship with him at Bering. Many people discovered that God loved them, and that the Methodists at Bering indeed welcomed and celebrated them. Michael lived his faith and included many acquaintances and friends on his faith journey. He embraced the Methodist church throughout his life, even when the UMC rejected him. Michael died in 1998. Thank God that, through Bering Memorial UMC, Michael died a Methodist, and was sung to Heaven by their choir.
I would like to nominate Michael Wilson to be recognized as a saint. (He is just loving this!!!) I would also like to recognize all past and present clergy, staff and members of Bering Memorial UMC as saints. They are truly God’s angels on earth.
Nelda Wilson Brooks
I wish to nominate Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnet. They helped their pastor make a fine statement about fully including LGBTQ people in the life of The UMC.
They were a devoted couple for many years and Ellie saw Jeannie through illness and death.