Anne Holmes became the first out lesbian ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in any mainline denomination in 1982.
Anne was born in Frostburg, Maryland in 1950 to Pershing and June Bell Holmes and lived in Lonaconing, Maryland her first three years. Then Anne’s family--her baby brother (Jim) and parents--moved to the Washington, D.C. area. When Anne was nine, her family (now including a sister, Hollis) settled in Vienna, Virginia, where she would grow up--now with a new baby brother. In Vienna,
Anne was active playing softball on the town teams for several years and played baseball and football with the neighborhood kids. Although her parents were not “church-goers” they made certain their children attended Sunday School and confirmation. For Anne, church became a refuge of sorts finding acceptance and friends there. Anne attended Sunday school and youth group throughout her teenage years. She was a leader with the youth and someone the adults would seek out.
Anne’s theology, like her congregation’s, was conservative evangelical. So she looked for a college that matched that and selected Dubuque University (Iowa) or Maryville College (Tennessee) as her two choices. She prayed on how to make this decision and decided she would enroll where she was accepted first. She received her first acceptance letter from Maryville and from Dubuque the following day. Even though she had stronger feeling for Dubuque, she followed through and enrolled at Maryville.
This was the late 1960s and the decade-long liberal student lifestyle and protest movement had reached even into small, conservative colleges. So Anne was initially shocked to get to campus and find the student life much more open and liberal than she expected. But she soon found her place and became quite comfortable there. She came out as a lesbian and found an underground LGBTQ network at the college. She started her first relationship with a woman then. When her very best friend Tony told her that he was gay, she was able to respond likewise. She frequently traveled with him back to his Nashville home to explore the gay social scene there.
Anne studied religion, philosophy and education at Maryville. She continued feeling a strong call to ministry that first came to her at age 16. Since there were few opportunities for women to be ordained and serve as church leaders, she determined that she would become a missionary and started preparing for that. She applied and was accepted for a Masters in Religion Education at Princeton Theological Seminary intending to get a joint Masters in Social Work from Rutgers.
However, she continued to struggle with how to fulfill her vocation while affirming her sexual identity. The night before her college graduation she and Tony went out to celebrate with their close circle of friends. They both came out to these friends who responded negatively, ostracizing Anne and Tony and never communicating with them again. Unsure of her future direction after graduating from Maryville in 1973, Anne moved with Tony to Nashville. She decided she could not fit into living in a seminary dorm at Princeton.
While in Nashville, Anne worked as a secretary (at which she was terrible) for a construction company in which the Vice President and Controller were gay and they wanted someone to “pass” and help keep people from finding out about them. However, Anne grew tired of the harassment from the male employees and left the company to become a probation officer in a pilot program investigating child abuse and neglect along with the Health and Human Services social workers.
Anne continued to feel God’s call to ministry and in 1975 enrolled at Vanderbilt Divinity School full-time for a Masters of Divinity, while continuing to work as a probation officer. That year was difficult with going to school full-time and working full-time. Anne found it helpful because the "ivory tower" of the school didn’t seem so ivory tower-ish and the streets didn’t feel so empty. Anne was able to deal with the terrible situations she was experiencing at work because she had a place to help put them in theological perspective; she very much appreciated the school helping her work through the pain of the “streets” as well as giving some theological language to think and talk about it. The next year Anne continued as a full-time student but left her full-time job.
Anne found Vanderbilt to be a relatively open place which gave her space (though grudgingly at times) to be her full self; she could explore being lesbian in relative freedom. However, as Anne was about to receive her degree and many of her friends were preparing for ordination it became clear to Anne that, although many of her friends were being ordained, she felt that in good conscious she couldn’t. Mentors at Vanderbilt suggested she simply not tell folks about being a lesbian. Yet Anne felt she could not stay closeted and seek ordination. She had not resolved this question when she graduated from Vanderbilt in 1978 so moved to Tiffin, Ohio, where she lived with another woman and worked as a drug counselor. She eventually moved back to Vienna, Virginia in 1979 and started clinical pastoral education (CPE) at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. She thrived in this chaplaincy program and sought to move into a CPE supervisor position after completing her residency. However, it was expected that she be ordained to qualify for this position.
Anne again began the process in the United Church of Christ toward ordination. Anne’s home church of Emmaus United Church of Christ agreed to sponsor her for ordination. Anne was very open about being a lesbian but someone in the church confronted the minister and he felt he had to “deal” with Anne’s sexuality. Only one other person had been ordained as an out gay man and he was in San Francisco, no one knew what to expect in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Thus began a two-year process. A series of meetings were held with the minister and leaders of the church as they struggled with what to do with Anne and her ordination. The church eventually decided it still supported her. The Potomac Association would take time and study “the issue” (Anne). There were a series of workshops and meetings where folks could come and talk about, among other things how Anne was ruining their life and their children’s lives and couldn’t she just be a social worker anyway. Anne also visited many of the churches in the Potomac Association and let them see a lesbian and touch one (yes, that was said). Anne was only invited to preach at one church and that was a new church start in Germantown, Maryland where ironically Anne would serve as Interim Minister twenty-five years later.
The next step was to seek approval from the Committee on Ministry of the Potomac Regional Association. The committee supported Anne, but thought there needed to be more education about sexuality and sexual orientation before a final vote to ordain her. So a series of educational workshops were held throughout the Association for the next year. Anne visited many congregations so folks could meet her and hear her story. The Association spent a year doing education on homosexuality, addressing misconceptions and stereotypes. She worked to stay calm and patient in the face of harsh comments and hate mail. Anne continued working at St. Elizabeth’s during this time, this was the “call” to which she would be ordained.
This was a extremely difficult time for Anne since she was never comfortable being the center of attention. There were many times, especially in the dark of the night that Anne wanted to quit. But her friends bolstered her in the dark times and celebrated with her in the joyous ones. This was also about the time that good friends adopted a baby, Amanda and they were generous enough to share her with Anne which helped keep her spirits up during the tough times.
Anne had her Ecclesiastical Council in 1981 to standing room only. Anne remembers being so scared in moments that she answered some of the questions incorrectly. But in the end the vote was 94-36 to ordain her. For the ordination service, on April 25, 1982 Anne set about creating a ordination service that many folks now wanted to be a part of. Once ordained Anne could not get a job in a church.
Anne went to western Maryland where she was a full-time staff chaplain and served a small church in Frostburg, Maryland. Once this church found out (and it isn’t clear how) about who Anne was they fired her and contacted the hospital where she was a chaplain who also fired her. It would be another 25 years before Anne would work in a church. A year after moving to Cumberland (and the same time the church realized that Anne was a lesbian) she because seriously ill and once released from the hospital she moved home to Mclean, Virginia with Linda (her partner) to recuperate.
Anne was eventually able to realize her ministry in churches and after twenty years she was able to retire in 2022. The little baby who was adopted and who Anne worshiped from the beginning was raised by Anne and her partner--now wife--Linda. They had a great life apart from the whole church thing. Anne and Linda retired and moved to North Carolina to be close to the now grown-up baby Amanda who has two children of her own. Anne and Linda get to spend a lot of time with the grandkids and enjoy every minute of it. Stella is their 2 ½ year old Labradoodle (what were they thinking at their age!) who was a pandemic dog.
Anne presently is a facilitator for two Communities of Practice groups, is a vetted facilitator with Sacred Conversations on Race, participates in two anti-racism deep dive groups, and she is a facilitator for the Central Atlantic Conference's Anti-Racism Local Church Audit.
It has been a long road filled with up’s and down’s but now Anne can say again “thank you Jesus” for Maryville College which started this whole thing….
(This biographical statement drafted by Mark Bowman from an interview with Anne Holmes and edited by Holmes.)
Biography Date: April 2023
“Rev. Anne Holmes | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed February 25, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/anne-holmes.