The Rev. Charles William Larsen (Chuck) was born in 1943 in St. Paul, Minnesota to Ruth Evelyn Larsen (Maas) and Charles Albert Larsen. Chuck also had a younger brother Ronald James Larsen that predeceased him, and a younger sister, Barbara Larsen Küss. Chuck’s parents were from different faith traditions—his Mom was Roman Catholic and his Dad Evangelical Protestant and he grew up with an appreciation for the spiritual values of his parents and for diversity of religious expression. Chuck had been told that when he was baptized Roman Catholic as an infant, the white gown he was wearing caught fire—leading him to comically wonder whether this might have been an omen for what was to come later in his life.
Chuck proudly attended St. Agnes High School in St. Paul, Minnesota where he was active on the Debate Team. During his time in high school, Chuck became aware of his attraction to other men. After graduating from St. Agnes High School, Chuck felt a calling to become a Christian Brother. So he went to live at the Christian Brothers Retreat House in Glencoe, Missouri to discern whether he had a vocation. After only a month there, he determined that he was called to be a school teacher rather than live in a monastery. He recalls waiting in downtown St. Louis for his train back to Minnesota and wandering into the nearby Centenary Methodist Church. He stopped to talk to the district superintendent there and suggested that he might be interested in becoming a Methodist preacher. The district superintendent proposed that he go to college and seminary and then come back to be a pastor.
So Chuck returned to Minnesota and started attending college. He started at the University of Minnesota and then transferred to St. Cloud State University. As Chuck continued to mature in college, he became even more acutely aware of his attraction to other men. But he thought his feelings would pass, that he would finish college, find a girlfriend and then get married. However, one snowy day, while walking across the St. Cloud State campus, he had a powerful revelation that he was actually gay and that that this would not change ever in his life. Yet, in those days, he believed it would not be possible to be openly gay.
Chuck earned his Bachelor of Science degree from St. Cloud State in 1965. He later taught World History and Geography for two years at the high school in Amery, Wisconsin. As the summer after his first year of teaching approached, Chuck made random calls to Methodist Churches in Florida and was invited to serve on the staff of First Methodist Church in Ocala, Florida. He went back there again the following summer.
Chuck’s third year of teaching was at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wisconsin but he started to grow more and more unhappy, even bored, with teaching. Meanwhile, the Ocala Church in Florida had offered to support Chuck to go to seminary, so Chuck decided to enroll at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. On the drive from Florida to Georgia, he stopped in the small town of Jonesboro, Georgia and wandered into the Methodist Church there. He introduced himself and indicated he might be interested in a job while studying at the seminary. A month later he received a call from the church inviting him to become their youth director. Larsen recalls this as being a happy, satisfying time in his life. He deeply appreciated the Methodist Church because of what he saw as its simplicity and being down-to-earth.
In 1970, Chuck graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School and in that same year was ordained a deacon in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Chuck then received a letter from the Bishop with an appointment to serve at the First UMC of Vero Beach in Florida. However, during his pastoral experience in Vero Beach, Chuck realized that he would have to be totally in the closet and not be able to express his sexuality. Chuck feared he would slip up and get caught in some sort of inappropriate behavior as viewed by the church at that time. So Chuck chose to take a leave of absence from the church to think through his options and next steps. During this year away from working at the church, he taught at an all-Black high school in Decatur, Georgia.
One Sunday while walking to worship at a nearby Episcopal Church, Chuck wandered into a Reformed Presbyterian Church. They were having a congregational meeting but they were in turmoil because they didn’t have a quorum. After listening for a while, Chuck stood and offered reassurance that God would help them work all this out. A few weeks later, Larsen was contacted by the congregation’s Pulpit Committee about becoming their pastor. In 1971, Larsen was then ordained at a North Carolina campground, in a log cabin, and became the Presbyterian congregation’s pastor. He worked hard at fitting in and being straight, but it continued to be very difficult and stressful for him.
Conveniently, the Atlanta Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) was actually located just two blocks away and they were meeting in a theater. Chuck was intrigued with the mission of MCC and even recalled purchasing a copy of The Advocate magazine in a gay bookstore in Minneapolis and reading a story about Rev. Troy Perry, the founder of the MCC church.
Chuck contacted the MCC church and later in 1972 learned that Rev. Troy Perry was going to be in Miami Beach for the 1972 Democratic Convention and would also appear at MCC Tampa. So, Chuck went to meet Rev. Perry at the MCC church in Tampa, Florida. The congregation there was considering another candidate to be pastor at the time. They eventually decided not to elect that person but to elect Chuck instead! However, Chuck was never really comfortable in Tampa and did not feel he could fit into the relatively conservative environment there.
In May 1976, Chuck was elected pastor of MCC San Francisco. During this period much of the focus of the congregation was on the defeat of the Briggs Initiative which would have disqualified gays and lesbians from being school teachers. Chuck also succeeded Bill Johnson as the executive director of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Along with Phyllis Lyon and Larry Littlejohn, Chuck was appointed as an advisor to the San Francisco Human Rights Committee (because LGBT persons were not considered to be members of the commission at that time).
During his time in San Francisco, Chuck was appointed as an advisor to the San Francisco Human Rights Committee and worked with Harvey Milk on a variety of political initiatives. Chuck was in Houston candidating for the pastorate at Resurrection MCC in Houston, Texas when he received the horrifying news of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone back in San Francisco on November 27, 1978. He hurried back to San Francisco and recalls the candlelight march from the Castro to City Hall.That evening, Chuck stood next to Joan Baez as she sang “Amazing Grace” through a megaphone to more than 40,000 people during the candlelight vigil for Harvey Milk in the Castro. The whole experience was one of the memorable experiences of Chuck’s life.
Chuck later became the Senior Pastor at Resurrection MCC in Houston from 1979 through 1985 and grew the congregation to the largest in the denomination at the time. Later, he served MCC Atlanta and then went back to San Francisco to serve as a Social Worker and as interim pastor at Golden Gate MCC while its founding pastor, James Sandmire, was dying in 1989.
Chuck returned to Minneapolis to serve as senior pastor at All God’s Children MCC when he met the love of his life, Dr. Glenn Bottomly, and they embarked on an amazing 24-year relationship. Chuck retired from the ministry in 1994 and then worked in his second passion, food service and deli work until he fully retired in 2005.
Chuck recalled that one of the founding principles of MCC was that when the major U.S. churches became accepting of GLBT persons, then the MCC Fellowship would dissolve. While MCC still thrives today and just enjoyed its 47th anniversary of its founding in October 2015, Chuck decided to live out this original founding principle by going back to his very first church denomination, the United Methodist Church. In April 2015, Chuck and Glenn joined River Hills UMC in Burnsville, Minnesota and while they were the only openly gay couple there, they found themselves fully loved and accepted there. During his retirement, Chuck volunteered to read to second graders in public schools and served meals to the homeless once a month with Glenn at the Simpson Shelter in Minneapolis, in addition to his regular church activities.
Rev. Charles William Larsen entered eternal rest on October 10, 2015 at the age of 72 due to respiratory issues that developed while recuperating from leg surgery. Chuck is survived by his loving partner of 24 years, Dr. Glenn David Bottomly; Glenn’s father, David T. Bottomly; and Glenn’s sister Lisa Galligan and her husband Bill Galligan. Chuck is also survived by his favorite sister, Barbara Larsen Küss, her husband Timothy Larsen Küss, her son Matthew Charles Pojar, her daughter Victoria Jeanette Pojar, and her grandson Ceejay Downs. Chuck was predeceased by his mother, Ruth Evelyn Larsen (Maas); his father, Charles Albert Larsen; his brother, Ronald James Larsen; Glenn’s mother Carol-Ann Nelson Bottomly; and Chuck and Glenn’s dear and loving friend, Patrick Francis Anzelc.
Chuck was a huge University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Football fan, and also loved live theater, debate, eating at new restaurants, and singing all of his favorite hymns, especially “Blessed Assurance” with Glenn.
Chuck would say that back when he was working with Harvey Milk, that Harvey was focused on changing politics, but that Chuck was focused on changing hearts. Chuck did this so effortlessly and was always a champion of those less fortunate and those in need. Chuck’s compassion was simply boundless and we all mourn his departure.
During his ministry, Chuck’s trademark was finishing each sermon or church service with the Irish Blessing which his family and friends read aloud to him on his last day to celebrate his devotion to God and his amazing life: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your field. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
For more information about Rev. Charles William Larsen, or for a copy of Chuck’s beautiful Memorial Service on DVD, please contact his partner, Dr. Glenn David Bottomly (firstname.lastname@example.org). Keep looking homeward angel!
(This biographical statement initially drafted by Mark Bowman from an interview with Chuck Larsen and then edited and expanded by Glenn Bottomly after Chuck's death.)
Biography Date: February, 2016