The Rev. Lois (Loey) M. Powell retired in 2016 from the denominational offices of the United Church of Christ after serving in various positions of leadership there for almost 20 years. Loey began her national setting ministry in 1996 when she was called to serve as the last Executive Director for the Coordinating Center for Women in Church and Society (CCW), one of the offices that would disappear as a distinct focus when the UCC restructured in 2000. Justice advocacy for women continued in a new national ministry called Justice and Witness Ministries and Loey joined the leadership team of JWM with particular attention to this advocacy work along with peace issues and leadership development, continuing this until 2014. At that point, Loey became the Executive Associate to the General Minister and President, and then filled a different position in her last months in the national offices.
The UCC likes to tout its “firsts” in history, such as being the first mainline church to ordain a woman when Antoinette Brown was ordered in 1853, and the first to ordain an openly gay or lesbian minister when the Rev. William R. Johnson was ordained in 1972. Loey’s ministry includes a few such firsts as an open lesbian in ministry since 1978, the year she was ordained by the Golden Gate Association of the Northern California-Nevada Conference. Loey was the first open lgbt member to be elected to the UCC’s Executive Council (around 1986), the primary decision-making body of the UCC. When she was called to be pastor of the United Church in Tallahassee (FL) in 1989, Loey was the first open lgbt minister to be called as sole pastor through the regular search and call process (which means she was just another name in a pool of candidates). As Executive Director of CCW, she was the first openly lgbt executive on the UCC’s Council of Instrumentality Executives.
Loey was a preacher’s kid. Her father, Oliver Powell, was a well-respected UCC minister who never shied away from engaging the church in the realities of the world and its social issues. Her mother, Eleonore Powell, returned to complete her B.S. when Loey was in grade school and had her own career as a dietician. Loey had two older brothers, David and Jonathan, but the family lost Joe when he was just 17. Born in Worcester, MA, in 1950, the Powells moved to Oak Park, IL, when Loey was in first grade. There she completed high school before attending Oberlin College. Then it was off to Pacific School of Religion in 1974 where Loey earned her M.Div. in 1977.
It was those years in Berkeley which shaped Loey’s adult life in significant ways. She came out as lesbian during her first year at PSR and became clear that her call to ministry was to be an advocate for justice. Feminist and liberation theologies were front and center and the desire to model a belief that ministry exists in and through community led Loey and two other women, also lesbian, to seek ordination together. They made their request for ordination from the Golden Gate Association of the No. California-Nevada Conference having written a joint theology of ministry paper. Along with Stacy Cusulos and Jody Parsons, the three women chose not to publicly state their sexual orientation in their request because of the joint nature of their request. It was widely known, however, throughout the Conference that they were lesbians. On April 2,1978, that ordination took place at Mill Valley Community Church (UCC) with much joy and celebration.
Loey’s first call in ministry was to be the director for an ecumenical non-profit that did education and advocacy on environmental and energy issues with churches. After two years, she had the opportunity to be an interim associate Conference minister, and then she was called to be the interim associate minister at 1st Congregational Church of San Francisco. Following her two years in that position, Loey entered a period of time when she was not able to find a ministry position for several years. She worked for Redwood Records, the independent women-owned label started by Holly Near, worked as a receptionist in a chiropractic office, and as a technician at the Oakland Museum. She was called to serve part-time as the founding pastor of Peace UCC in Oakland, an Open and Affirming Congregation seeking new ways to minister and worship in the Bay Area, a role she fulfilled for the first two years of that congregation’s life. Then, in 1989, Loey was called to the United Church in Tallahassee. There she was engaged in HIV/AIDS outreach, reproductive justice concerns, peace issues, lgbtq advocacy, and responding to the rise in the number of Black churches in the South which were being burned down, among other issues of the day. It was a very satisfying pastorate with a wonderful congregation.
During her tenure in the national setting of the UCC, Loey had the opportunity to represent the UCC in ecumenical and interfaith settings. She was a member of the Justice for Women Working Group of the National Council of Churches, participated in an ecumenical women’s trip to the Middle East, served for four years as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and was able to attend many conferences and committees addressing a wide range of issues. For many ecumenical and interfaith partners, Loey’s sexuality was a challenge or a blessing, especially as many denominations struggled internally with lgbtq issues. For Loey, it felt important to be more than a single-issue minister particularly as one whose interests covered a range of topics.
Over the years, Loey was active with the UCC’s Open and Affirming Coalition, becoming involved when it was still known as the UCC Gay Caucus. She was co-national coordinator with Bill Johnson early on, and then with Sam Loliger. Her parents founded a new ministry focus in their retirement when they formed a new support group, the UCC Parents of Lesbians and Gays. Over the years, Eleonore and Oliver counseled and encouraged parents who were struggling with accepting their children and developed a strong voice of advocacy within the UCC for lgbtq persons and families.
In 2017, Loey was awarded the UCC’s Antoinette Brown Award which since 1975 has recognized trailblazing ministries of women.
Loey met her spouse, Brenda Joyner, in Tallahassee. Brenda was the Director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center then and they became personally involved in 1996. When Loey moved to Cleveland in 1997, Brenda went off the CUNY Law School. Both are retired now, Loey from the UCC and Brenda from teaching, and seek new ways to live out their strong commitments to justice. They balance the craziness of the world with their avid love of golfing, cooking, good wine, and taking on all kinds of home repair jobs.
(This revised biographical statement provided by Loey Powell.)
Biography Date: January 2018
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Clergy Activist | Feminism | Ordination/clergy | Women and Religion | Powell, Loey