Jay Deacon grew up on the Jersey Shore in a milieu of fundamentalist Christianity and reactionary public attitudes. As a teenager, when not sailing on the Barnegat Bay, he became involved in an Assembly of God church and was graduated from an A/G college in Springfield, Missouri. For a while he lived in Newark and Brooklyn and worked for the Pentecostal evangelist David Wilkerson. But the realities of urban life, race, and the Vietnam War brought a changed perspective and soon Wilkerson fired him, calling him a “communist sympathizer.”
During his three years at the evangelical Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston, his evangelical faith collapsed and was finally shattered by his growing awareness that he is gay. In 1973 he founded the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford to serve the gay and lesbian community. He worked for the passage of Hartford’s ordinance protecting fundamental rights for gay and lesbian people. His church was the subject of attacks from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hartford, and his car was firebombed. Meanwhile, he entered the new Doctor of Ministry program at Hartford Seminary Foundation.
In 1978 Jay was called to serve Good Shepherd Parish MCC in Chicago and continued his doctoral studies at McCormick Theological Seminary. An enthusiastic congregation built a new Parish Center in Lakeview and Deacon developed programs on sexuality and spirituality in conjunction with Matthew Fox and the Institute for Creation Spirituality. The Good Shepherd became a spiritual center for a community torn by the AIDS pandemic. A few days before the 1983 Chicago mayoral election, Jay hosted a rally for Harold Washington, who became Chicago’s first black mayor. But some members began to question his Christianity, asking repeatedly, “Aren’t you really a Unitarian anyway?” When he determined that he was guilty as charged, he began the transfer of his ministerial credentials to the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1982. He relocated to Boston and served as Acting Director of Information at the UUA headquarters on Beacon Hill.
Coming out as a gay man forced fundamental questions he couldn’t any longer afford the luxury of avoiding. He came to understand his own spiritual evolution as part and parcel of a magnificent forward journey of consciousness into uncharted territory where the future — whatever it is to be — is in our hands. In the story of the American Transcendentalists led by the Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson, he found a vivid embodiment of the kind of evolutionary spirituality that can give us access to the highest human possibility. Serving numerous Unitarian Universalist congregations in the U.S. and the U.K., he has struggled with the potentials of a spiritual community to become the context where a “higher We” can come into being. With the future of this human experiment in profound peril as our past and present folly degrades the climate and the natural world, he speaks with urgency: it is time to be done with the religion that binds us to a primitive, naive, and sometimes barbaric past — and to engage deeply in a spirituality that must be a powerful engine of the evolution of consciousness and human culture.
In 1985 Deacon was called to serve the Unitarian Church of Bangor, Maine after a member, Charlie Howard, was murdered in a homophobic attack. In 1986 he was appointed Director of Lesbian and Gay Concerns at the UUA headquarters where he developed the Welcoming Congregation Program. The program was adopted at the denomination’s 1989 General Assembly. In 1993 he was called as minister by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oak Park, Illinois, at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, just outside Chicago, serving until 2002. He led the consolidation of UUCOP with Beacon Unitarian Church creating Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Membership grew and the historic structure was restored. During a sabbatical leave, he served Unitarian congregations in Aberdeen, Scotland, and London. In 2011 his book Magnificent Journey: Religion as Lock on the Past or Engine of Evolution appeared with a new edition in 2014. A third edition will appear in 2017.
After leaving Unity Temple UU Congregation, Jay served the UU congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts and produced a weekly radio program on WXOJ until 2006. Subsequently he has served UU congregations in North Easton, Mass.; Orlando, Florida; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Newport, Rhode Island. He shares his Springfield, Massachusetts home with Thunder The Dog.
(This biographical profile provided by F. Jay Deacon.)
Jay died at his home in western Massachusetts in late July, 2020.
Biography Date: December, 2016
Unitarian Universalist | Unitarian Universalists for LGBT Concerns | Clergy Activist