The Rev. Alice O’Donovan grew up as a farm girl in small town New England, as well acquainted with stacking hay as reading theology.
As an out lesbian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge in the early 1980s, she was not so sure that she wanted ordination; and in that early process 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. 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, and about the same time served a term as the national chair of the board of the United Church of Christ LGBT Coalition.
But most of Alice’s encouraging ministry was directed to her local home settings. 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. 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 with congregations in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
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.
Alice authored an article entitled "Lesbian and Gay: The Gospel and the Church" that was published in a 1990 book in from the United Church Press, Theology and Identity: Traditions, Movements and Polity in the United Church of Christ.
During all this time Cass and Alice raised three intelligent, caring, wonderful young people.
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.
(This biographical statement written by Richard Taylor and edited by Alice O'Donovan.)
Biography Date: November 2021
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Clergy Activist | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Connecticut
“Alice O'Donovan | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 25, 2022, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/alice-odonovan.