The Rev. Frank Edson Robertson may be the first religious educator to be hired as an openly gay person to a position in a church as Minister of Religious Education. He was open about his sexual orientation to those who hired him in the spring of 1971 at All Souls Church (Unitarian Universalist) of Washington, D.C. Frank had been active in the UU Gay Caucus and was a key leader in the drive to establish the Office of Gay Concerns within the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters by a vote of the General Assembly in 1973 and to fund it in 1974. Many of the early conferences for Gay Caucus members were held in his home in D.C. in the 1970s and he was elected at-large as an openly gay person to the UUA Board of Trustees in 1977 and served from 1978-1980.
Frank was born September 15, 1936, to John and Mildred Robertson in Greenfield, Mass. He received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Lowell in 1959. He received his ministerial and religious education training at The Theological School of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he earned an M.Div. degree in 1962. He did further study at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City, focusing on World Religions, particularly East Indian studies. In 1979 he studied and traveled in India. He participated in a study tour of Japan and in the International Association of Religious Freedom Congress in Tokyo in 1984.
Frank was ordained by the First Grace Universalist Church in Lowell, Mass. He served churches in Barneveld, New York; Shelter Rock, Long Island, New York; and Paramus, New Jersey. He served as Minister of Religious Education in Washington, D.C., Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Evanston, Illinois. In 1998, after serving in Evanston for 12 years, he was honored by the congregation as Minister Emeritus upon his retirement.
Frank founded and chaired the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education History Group and served on the board of the St. Lawrence Foundation and the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Religious Freedom. He was an elder of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants.
In 2006, Robertson was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from the Meadville Lombard theological School. He received the Angus H. MacLean Award for excellence in religious education in 1998. In his retirement he he served as archivist for Interweave. He was a founding member of the Advisory Committee for the LGBT Religious Archives Network.
Frank died on February 6, 2008, at his home in Plymouth, Mass. He was survived by his partner of then 36 years, Rick McDonald, as well as two daughters from a previous marriage, Lydia and Denene Robertson. His son, Joel, died earlier.
(This biographical statement provided by Frank Robertson and supplemented by information from a memorial tribute by Rev. Thom Belote on the blog, "Remembering the Living Tradition," posted March 11, 2008.)
Biography Date: December, 2002
Unitarian Universalist | Unitarian Universalists for LGBT Concerns | Clergy Activist | Robertson, Frank | Interweave | Boston | Massachusetts | Ordination/clergy
“I had known Frank in his capacity as minister of Religious Education at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., where I was a member. Our paths also crossed at UULGC gatherings. In 1982 General Assembly was held on the campus of Bowdoin College in Maine. During a well attended workshop, I noticed a man seated in the front row who was repeatedly reaching toward the floor with his left hand. It appeared he was slowly picking up an object I couldn't see from the floor and then examining it. His behavior was puzzling and distracting. I couldn't imagine what he was doing.
After a few minutes, Frank rose from his seat across the room, bent down and whispered to the man, then put his arm around his shoulders, while gently and quietly escorting him from the room. It was only then I realized that the man was hallucinating, probably from uncontrolled schizophrenia. At the time Frank had many more responsibilities than those at All Souls. He was undoubtedly spending most of his time at committee meetings and other responsibilities from his position as a trustee on the board of the UUA. Nevertheless, during the remainder of the week, every time I saw Frank on campus, he was accompanied by the man who had hallucinated. Frank had decided on the spot that the man needed him so much that he was willing to spend five days giving him the physical and spiritual support he needed to complete the week at General Assembly.
Frank's sacrifice that week was quiet (just as he was), generous and unselfish. I will never forget that incident, and always be grateful to him for setting an example of moral behavior which I would strive to emulate in my own life.”
– as remembered by Eric Schuman on October 29, 2020
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