Dennis Akpona, African Central Conferences Coordinator
Dennis Akpona is a LGBTQ activist originally from Nigeria. He was recently granted asylum from Nigeria where he fled the persecution he faced as a gay man. While in Nigeria Dennis worked for seven years in the nonprofit sector for a number of organizations including Journalists Against AIDS, Initiative for Equal Rights and Population Council. Since fleeing to the United States, Dennis has not stopped working for, and on behalf of, LGBT individuals. He formerly worked at AIDS Foundation of Chicago and is a co-founder of Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program or CLASP. Knowing first-hand the difficulty arriving asylum seekers face and the lack of resources available to them, Dennis took it upon himself to organize and start CLASP to assist LGBT asylum seekers while they await the long and complicated process of applying for asylum. Due to his love for giving back and helping others, he is currently pursuing a second degree at the Northeastern Illinois University in Social Work. Dennis received a bachelor degree in Accounting from Lagos State University in Nigeria.
Rev. Israel I. Alvaran, Western Regional Organizer
Israel I. Alvaran is an ordained Elder in the Philippines Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He has served in various ministry settings as pastor, youth minister and faculty at a UMC university and seminary in the Philippines. He is currently under episcopal appointment to serve as an organizer with Reconciling Ministries Network. A long-time activist, Israel worked as Person-in-Mission of the UMC General Board of Global Ministries for the Manila Episcopal Area, focusing on advocacy for low-wage workers. For a number of years, he was a community outreach organizer for UNITE HERE Local 2 (the hotel workers union) and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice of California. Prior to joining RMN, he served as national organizer for economic justice with the UMC General Board of Church and Society. A political asylee from the Philippines, Israel lives in San Francisco, CA and is immersed in the life of his community. Until recently, he was an officer and board member of San Francisco Pride at Work, an organization committed to LGBTQI rights in the workplace. He is on the Activist Committee of the Jobs with Justice chapter in San Francisco. Israel has a Masters of Divinity degree and a Masters of Theology degree from Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines. With a dissertation focused on faith-rooted organizing, he received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA in 2010 as a recipient of the UMC Crusade Scholarship. When not in the thick of rallies and picket lines, Israel loves to cook and bake for friends, and spends quality time with his adorable dog Waui Kush.
Kathy Cheney-Egan, Director of Fund Development
Kathy Cheney-Egan joins the RMN staff as Director of Development in November. Kathy is a life-long United Methodist and currently is a member of First United Methodist Church in Evanston where she is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee. Kathy has worked in the non-profit world for over 30 years–over half of that time directly in the area of fund development. Most recently she was Director of Development and Communications at Metropolitan Tenants Organization, where she helped to double the organization’s budget. Kathy is a Diaconal Minister, earning a M.S.W. from Washington University in St. Louis and a M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in Hyde Park. Kathy envisions fund development as a chance to provide others with the opportunity to be a part of important struggles for social justice. She is deeply committed to the movement of Reconciliation and thrilled to be a part of the RMN staff. Kathy lives in Evanston with her partner of 27 years, John, and her 17-year-old child Rachel.
Suzanne Dickerson, Bookkeeper/Office Manager
Suzanne is energized toward making an impact and creating change every day by delivering much needed resources directly to discriminated communities. That is what led her to pursue a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management from DePaul University, and as an individual of faith, to Reconciling Ministries Network. Suzanne has over eight years of experience assisting nonprofit organizations and institutions with furthering their vision and achieving their mission. Suzanne is a classically trained ballerina who looks forward to performing on stage in her spare time.
Jan Lawrence, Interim Executive Director
Jan is a lay member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Her passions are social justice, inclusion of all in God’s church, and unity of the church. She recognizes the tension that the fight for inclusion of LGBTQ people has created between those passions. She has been a leader on the LGBTQ Advocacy team at Foundry UMC in Washington D.C. since the 2012 General Conference.
Jan grew up in Rome, Georgia and graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, GA. She did graduate work at the University of Missouri and is currently studying at Wesley Seminary in Washington D.C. Professionally her background is in Engineering Management and Program Management.
Jan has been activity in her church, community, and at Wesleyan College for many years. She realized a few years ago that she enjoyed them more than she was her career. Deciding that at some point she wanted to transition to a career in a non-profit or church operations field, she began taking classes at Wesley Seminary to prepare for such a move. When the opportunity to join the RMN team came, she did not hesitate, believing that she could combine her passions in one place.
She lives in Washington D.C. with her spouse, Lindi Lewis, and their 7 year-old Welsh Terrier, Higgins.
Rev. Liam M. Hooper, Transgender Community Organizer
Reverend Liam M. Hooper, M.Div., is the founder of GRASP (Gender Revisioning and Sexuality Pathways), which aims to improve the lives of trans people in the community through public education, advocacy, activism, and general support activities. As an openly trans man, Li takes seriously the call to freely tell his story, to be as authentically who he is as possible, to engage in responsible education and advocacy, and to hear and respect the stories of others. Through trans advocacy work, awareness-raising, social justice work, education, and theological activism, Li strives to work for greater safety, freedom, and acceptance for trans people and all those in the vast, diverse continuum of persons.
Mellany McDonald-Williams, South Central Field Associate
Mellany is a member of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, TX where she serves as a member of the worship team on the Downtown Campus and Northwest Houston Campus. She also currently serves as a District Delegate in the Central South District of the Texas Annual Conference of the UMC.
Mellany is the Past Chairman and Founder of AffirmHouston, a LGBT support group, which focuses on bringing awareness and dialogue to the churches and surrounding community on topics of LGBT inclusion. She is a past Executive Board member of Breaking the Silence in the Texas Annual Conference. She was previously elected as an Alternate Delegate of the 2012 Jurisdictional Conference. She has previously addressed the delegation during Texas Annual Conference regarding inclusive amendments and resolutions. She has participated in numerous panel discussions and workshops on topics related to race, the church and the LGBT community.
Mellany currently works as an Attorney/CPA, enjoys traveling, cycling, music, writing, and singing. She is the mother to an amazing 3 year old princess and is originally from Detroit. Mellany has lived in Houston Metropolitan area for the last 26 years.
email@example.com – pronouns: she/her/hers
Brett Roes, Communications Associate
Brett Roes is a transmasculine person who grew up in the heart of the Midwest. Even at a young age, they began wrestling with matters of faith and social justice. After receiving a BA in Religion at Simpson College, they moved to Durham, NC where they earned a Master of Theological Studies at Duke Divinity School. While pursuing graduate work, they authored their first book, My Name is Brett: Truths from a Trans Christian, and has since traveled the country for various speaking engagements and readings. Upon graduation, Brett moved to South Dakota with their wife, where they have fought alongside many others for LGBTQ+ equality in the state. Over the past eight years, Brett has been engaged in ministry in multiple United Methodist congregations. Outside of the office, they can be found working on their second book, wooing their wife, singing sappy folk songs, or pursuing the perfect cup of coffee.
Pronouns: they/them/their or he/him/his
Helen Ryde, Southeastern Regional Organizer
Helen serves as RMN’s full-time Southeastern Regional Organizer, prior to this she was the Northeast Regional Organizer, joining RMN in 2012. Helen fell in love with the United States in 1983 when she visited New Jersey and Virginia for a field hockey tour with her high school. She spent 15 happy years in non-denominational charismatic churches in the UK (mostly London and Canterbury), but eventually the whole being gay thing was too tricky to navigate. Eventually Helen moved to Massachusetts in 1998, met Mrs. Lovely (her spouse Kate) in 1999, and found the United Methodist Church in Provincetown in about 2005. Along the way Helen has been a Vice President of a global financial services company and a special needs teacher. She graduated in post-graduate secondary education from Canterbury Christ Church University. Helen is in the process of training to be consecrated to the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner in The United Methodist Church.
Alex Shanks, North Central Regional Organizer
Rachel’s husband. Ella Marie’s papa. Thinker. Woodworker. Story teller. Servant leader. Spiritual seeker. Transman.
Alex found The United Methodist Church 13 years ago when looking for a space to heal after his mother’s passing. He fell in love with the emphasis on grace and the commitment to justice that he saw lived out in the world. Since then, Alex has served in local United Methodist churches, the West Ohio Annual Conference, as a nationally renowned spoken word poet, and as a faith organizer for Why Marriage Matters Ohio (a campaign to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples). Alex is currently serving as Project and Field Director for Equality Ohio where he authored a faith training series called “Becoming Faithfully Inclusive,” and as co-host for the podcast We Are Compatible. As Regional Organizer for the North Central Jurisdiction, he brings his passion for justice, advocacy, learning, and teaching, hoping to support Reconciling and affirming United Methodists as they remain committed to their call and their cause during such a time as this.
Laura Young, South Central Regional Organizer
Laura Young is a Deaconess in the UMC. She’s a clergy spouse, mother, outspoken advocate for social justice, and has been serving through RMN as a volunteer or on staff since 2007. She is a member of the Texas Annual Conference, but currently living in the Northwest Texas Conference where her partner serves a Reconciling congregation in Lubbock. Laura is deeply committed to ongoing theological education and full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the UMC. She has chaired the board for Perkins Lay School of Theology, and co-chaired Breaking the Silence – a voice for full inclusion in the Texas Annual Conference. She has served as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference and was the LYNC Legislative Coordinator for Church & Society B at the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences. Laura is a singer, enjoys live music, Houston Astros baseball, photography, and collects giraffes.
Anthony Larson, Seminary Intern