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Retired UM Clergylesbian Establishes Scholarship For Future UM Clergylesbians

Retired Lesbian Clergywoman Establishes Scholarship for United Methodist Seminarians

Kathryn Davis

United Methodist lesbian clergywoman activist Jeanne Audrey Powers has created a new scholarship named for herself at the Pacific School of Theology. United Methodist students attending the non-denominational seminary in Glendale, California or any one of 13 United Methodist seminaries will be eligible.

"When the UMC changes its attitude about sexual orientation, I want to see pastors who are prepared to teach about this and other social justice issues informed by theology, ethics and scripture itself," said Rev. Powers of the recently established Jeanne Audrey Powers Leadership for Change Scholarship.

Powers publicly announced her lesbianism during a controversial sermon, "The Journey," at a Reconciling Congregations (United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns) Convocation in 1995. The United Methodist Church prohibits ordination to clergy sexually active outside marriage. But Powers avoided entanglement with church law by declining to say whether she was sexually active and by retiring from the ministry shortly after her announcement.

In addition to her activism on homosexual issues, Powers co-chaired the now defunct World Council of Churches' steering committee responsible for planning the 1993 "Re-imagining" Conference. That ecumenical women's event ignited controversy by featuring speakers who advocated goddess worship and the public celebration of lesbianism.

Before her retirement, Powers was the Associate General Secretary of the United Methodist General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns from 1966 until 1996. Other career highlights include contributing to the establishment of the Center for Sexuality and Christian Life at United Methodist Claremont School of Theology in California, receiving the first Minnesota Annual Conference Award for Ecumenism, now named in her honor, and being arrested along with 29 others for disrupting the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, protesting the church's prohibition against same-sex unions and homosexual ordination.

Powers established the scholarship, administered by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion, "to encourage those who are committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of The United Methodist Church, that they might advocate from positions of pastoral leadership."

Applicants must be enrolled or planning to enroll in one of the thirteen United Methodist seminaries in the US or in the Pacific School of Religion, founded in originally by Congregationalists. The Pacific School is now a liberal multi-denominational seminary boasting students from denominations ranging from the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalism to the United Methodist Church.

To qualify for this $3,000 renewable annual award, an applicant must be a member of the United Methodist Church seeking elders' orders and committed to "promoting justice for gay and lesbian persons" in the United Methodist Church. Members from "Reconciling" Congregations or the church's southern jurisdictions are "specifically welcomed." According to Rev. Powers, "We have the most work to do in those jurisdictions in helping people understand that there are a variety of sexual orientations among human beings."

Rev. Powers believes her homosexuality is "a good gift from God." She hopes to correct "false teachings that have contributed to heresy and homophobia within the Church itself." By encouraging seminarians to "look at Scripture passages in a new way," she trusts she can fight the "ignorance" that she compares to the anti-Semitism of the World War II era.

According to Powers, "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 teachings."
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