The Rev. Alice O’Donovan (December 28, 1945-November 8, 2022) grew up in the small towns of Willsboro, New York, on the shores of Lake Champlain, and Ashfield, Massachusetts, where she graduated in a class of 12. There she gained her love of animals and nature, eventually becoming as well acquainted with stacking hay as reading theology. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts, in 1967, serving as the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Norwich, Connecticut, and a Girl Scout leader.
Her life changed in the early 1980s, coming out as a lesbian, but also sensing a call to the ministry. In order to support her family she took on a variety of jobs including cutting firewood, apple picking, dairy farming, and bar tending, all of which contributed to her unique perspective as a pastor and counselor.
Alice received degrees from Hartford Seminary and the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. But she was not so sure that she wanted ordination, partly because in those early days it was not so clear whether she could be ordained any way. At that same time she became active in the Connecticut chapter of the United Church of Christ’s Coalition for LGBT Concerns that had been founded by Ken South.
Alice was also dating Cass Crewdson and they were committed to a long-term relationship since 1980. Jeffrey Larsen, then Associate Pastor of the Storrs Congregational Church reserved the Church’s small chapel for an event on February 28, 1984. There, he, the couple, other clergy, and a few friends met and sealed the couple’s covenant with love and prayers.
Alice was ordained in 1988, as the first openly gay person to be ordained by the United Church of Christ in Connecticut. In the very same year she was elected as the national chair of the board of the United Church of Christ LGBT Coalition (now the Open and Affirming Coalition.)
Alice will forever be remembered for her bravery and tireless compassion in her ministry and mentoring. She became the leader of the local Connecticut chapter of the Coalition that included many closeted and very frightened clergy. She was able to bring joy and hope into many lives, and give praise and celebrate God's presence in everyday life, particularly in nature. Eventually others began to refer friends to her, and her mentoring care became the guiding light to scores of LGBT people.
During this time a conservative church introduced a resolution against sexual assault at the Connecticut Conference annual meeting. While it didn’t say so specifically, the conversations overheard in the hallways implied the resolution was a way to attack gay people, as it was asserted that they were the cause of assaults on young people. Alice then stood up an announced that the Coalition supported the resolution as we are all against sexual assault.
Alice’s listening skills well suited her to the pastorate, where she listened with empathy and challenged with a hopeful imagination. As a pastor, associate or interim, she shared humor, thoughtful exegesis, and creative imagination, serving eleven congregations in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.
When the United Church Press decided to publish a 1990 book to survey the Theology and Identity: Traditions, Movements and Polity in the United Church of Christ, Alice was asked to write a chapter on LGBT inclusion, "Lesbian and Gay: The Gospel and the Church.”
In the 1990s, the United Church was working towards full communion with other Reformed and Lutheran denominations. Although it had a long-term relationship with the Reformed Church in America, the majority of that denomination was not in the same place as the United Church on LGBT issues. A special commission of equal numbers from each denomination was chosen for dialogue, understanding, and a way forward. The President of the UCC asked Alice to serve as the only out member of the commission. Communion was served at many of the meetings, and Alice volunteered to be the celebrant. While bringing the bread and the cup to each one present, an RCA representative told her he could not receive the sacrament from her. Not missing a beat, she then asked if she could bless him. He agreed, she laid her hand on him, said a blessing, and the service proceeded.
During all this time Cass and Alice raised three intelligent, caring, wonderful young people, now mature and accomplished: Robert, Stephen, and Mary O'Donovan.
Connecticut adopted marriage equality in November 2008. Eager to take advantage of it, and with the 25th anniversary of their holy union service coming up, the couple decided to make it legal, on their anniversary date. This time the service was held in the sanctuary of the Storrs Church. The large sanctuary was nicely filled with guests, a large choir, and hundreds of daffodils! What had once been hidden was now in the light. So many people whose lives they had touched and enriched came together to share the joy.
Alice was courageous in her final struggle with cancer, more willing to cheer those who called than review her symptoms. Her service was held at the same Storrs Church, again filled, and with others watching on line around the country.
Friends posted remembrances at the time of her death. Here are some: “Shy is never a word I would use for Alice, she was the embodiment of joy.” “She called it as she saw it, but always in a place of humility...” “Unapologetically honest, and very dear to me.” “A welcoming beacon to LGBTQI folks.” “Good humor and a great heart.” “Indomitable spirit.” “Encouraged everyone near her to pause and be real.” “An absolute firecracker, genuine, funny, dry in her wit and warm spirited.”
(This biographical statement was originally written by Richard Taylor and edited by Alice O'Donovan, Following her death items from her obituary and postings at her service have been added.)
Biography Date: November 2021; rev. January 2023