The Rev. Bruce Billman, long-time Presbyterian pastor and activist, was born on April 9, 1934 in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He studied at Oberlin College, graduating in 1956. He earned an M.Div. degree from Colgate Rochester Crozier Theological Seminary in 1959. He was ordained and installed as a Presbyterian pastor at Plattsburgh Presbyterian Church (New York) in 1960. He served as the pastor of the Brick Church (Rochester) from 1962-1969.
While serving as assistant minister at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester around 1969, he came out to a parish leader, Virginia West Davidson. Davidson went on to become a strong advocate for LGBTQ persons as the Vice-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church U.S. She chaired the historic Task Force on Homosexuality from 1976-78. Billman became active in Presbyterians for Lesbian & Gay Concerns (now More Light Presbyterians) and That All May Freely Serve, the advocacy group spawned at Downtown Presbyterian Church. Billman maintained a strong connection with and affection for Ginny Davidson. During his time in Schenectady, he commissioned a painting of “The Turtle Woman” in honor of Davidson. Billman observed that turtles cannot advance without “sticking out their necks.” His obituary noted that Billman courageously “stuck out his neck” for a number of social justice concerns over this life.
Billman earned an S.T.M. degree from New York Theological Seminary in 1972. He served as pastor of Christ Church in the Hills in Schenectady. He later served as pastor of South Presbyterian Church in Rochester while also serving as chaplain and counselor at the Pastoral Counseling Center in Rochester. He retired from South Presbyterian but left retirement to serve Livonia Presbyterian Church for a time. Billman spent time with the Taizé Brothers in Pine Mountain, Virginia, drawn there by their sense of community and contemplative style of worship. Billman was an aficionado of the arts, music, and particularly movies. He stayed engaged with That All May Freely Serve and LGBTQ+ advocacy until his death on March 1, 2021.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from information found in “Heart and Soul”, “ a 2016 document from That All May Freely Serve, and an obituary in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.)
Biography Date: August 2021
Presbyterian Church (USA) | Clergy Activist | More Light Presbyterians (formerly Presbyterians for LGBT Concerns) | That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) | Spahr, Jane Adams | Rochester | New York | Davidson, Virginia West
“Rev. Bruce Billman | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 24, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/bruce-billman.