+

Rev. Dr. Gail Ricciuti | Profile

(photo)

Biography

The Rev. Gail Anderson Ricciuti, D.D., was born in Longview, Washington on October 31, 1948. A Halloween baby, she is wont to joke that “this explains a lot!” Growing up almost in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens, she and her younger sister Jan reveled in swimming the frigid waters of Spirit Lake, attending summer Y Camp and later camp counseling just across that lake from the beautiful peak known in those years as “the Fujiyama of the West.” Among her cherished memories is sitting on a log to pray early in the mornings while gazing at the mountain– a place she knew as holy. Gail and her sister grew up in the loving embrace of the Longview Community Church, the first church built in that “planned community” organized in 1923 as a homestead for lumbermen on the banks of the Columbia River. 

Gail attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. A junior year’s semester abroad in Vienna, Austria had provided opportunity to examine and “test” a newly-perceived call to Christian ministry, diverting her from her original career aspiration to teach high school English. In the fall of 1970, she entered Princeton Theological Seminary– graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1973. While at Princeton, she served as student assistant at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, a multi-racial congregation comprised of local residents, university students, and seminary/university faculty families. There at the seminary, she also met future husband Anthony J. Ricciuti, a Canadian who was a year ahead of her academically.  They were married in 1972– living in an old tenement in Trenton, New Jersey, while Gail finished her seminary degree and Anthony commuted daily to a CPE chaplaincy program in Brooklyn. 

A few months after her seminary graduation, Gail and Anthony moved westward for Gail to take a year-long assistant pastorate at the Central Presbyterian Church in Massillon, Ohio.  She was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament by the UPC(USA) Presbytery of Olympia (Washington) in October of 1973. In 1975, launching into almost 25 years as pioneers in the field of co-pastoring in their denomination, they began to seek a church anywhere in the country willing to try this new model of egalitarian ministry– accepting a call to a small village church in upstate New York. The Byron Presbyterian Church had the distinction of being the only congregation (among the 93 to which they applied) open to taking a chance on such a husband/wife team. 

During her seminary years, Gail had been sent as a Seminary Advisory Delegate to the annual, ten-day meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, at that time the largest deliberative body in the world. Having grown up in a moderately evangelical church (with strong Methodist and Presbyterian elements), she had always tacitly understood that homosexuality wasn’t quite God’s intention for human beings; until– at her first GA meeting– she met a group of young gay and lesbian seminarians and advocates who had come to petition that body for full inclusion in the denomination’s membership and ordination. As a firm believer in the truth of scripture, she could plainly see that these men and women unquestionably possessed the biblical fruits of the Spirit--among them “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control”--and the question of God’s intention toward LGBTQ individuals was settled for her, once and for all. “I wasn’t going to argue with the Holy Spirit!” she has often said. 

The Spirit struck again during her ministry in the Byron Church: in 1977, Genesee Valley Presbytery nominated her to be a ruling-elder commissioner to the 189th General Assembly. When the assembly elected as moderator the “underdog” Dr. John Connor, an advocate for LGBTQ persons as well as other peace and justice concerns, he reached out to Gail to serve as his Vice Moderator– thus making her the first clergywoman and the youngest person ever (at the age of 28) to preside at a General Assembly, and launching her into a year of preaching and speaking around the country as a representative of the General Assembly. In recognition of her role, Keuka College conferred on her the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1979. 

In early 1983, after seven and a half years serving in Byron, Gail and Anthony were called to the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester as two of the four co-pastors for that congregation. During their fifteen-year tenure, the church was an active leader in the denomination’s struggle toward full inclusion of the LGBTQ community: notably, extending a co-pastoral call to the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr– the unanimous choice of the church’s membership that was however ultimately denied by the UPC(USA)’s Permanent Judicial Commission. The congregation subsequently proceeded to create a new nationwide advocacy initiative, “That All May Freely Serve,” employing Janie Spahr as its Evangelist. Gail and others risked their own ordinations many times over the Downtown Church years by officiating countless holy unions– an act of ecclesiastical disobedience. 

In 1998, after five years of adjunct teaching at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School while continuing as a pastor, Gail was appointed to the full-time faculty as Associate Professor of Homiletics. Eighteen more years of creating and teaching courses in preaching, liturgy and worship, church administration, and polity followed, during which she was recipient of the student body’s Excellence in Teaching Award; and she was named Professor Emerita at her retirement in 2016. 

Throughout her career, she has served on dozens of councils and committees for organizations both local and nationwide. She is currently a member of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley and its Committee on Preparation for Ministry; the Academy of Homiletics; serves on the Executive Council of Christian Feminism Today (CFT, formerly EEWC– the Ecumenical and Evangelical Women’s Caucus); and is part of the Kirkridge Courage Faculty at the Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania. 

Gail has lectured and preached at numerous conferences and theological institutes over the years and is co-author, with Rosemary C. Mitchell, of two volumes of Birthings and Blessings: Liberating Worship Services for the Inclusive Church. She has been a contributor to other published volumes including the CEB Women’s Bible, Feasting on the Gospels, and Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Her writings have appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Lectionary Homiletics

Her interests include preaching and the arts, feminist theology and spirituality, eclectic reading (nature nonfiction, memoir, travel, poetry, historical and mystery novels); and, over her lifetime, wilderness canoeing and dog obedience training. She has one sister, the Rev. Janette B. Anderson, who is a United Methodist minister. In retirement, Gail and her husband are active participants in the Rochester Mennonite Fellowship.

(This biographical statement written by Gail Ricciuti.)

Biography Date: December 2022

Tags

Presbyterian Church (USA) | Clergy Activist | Ally | Ordination/clergy | That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) | Rochester | New York | Author/editor

Citation

“Rev. Dr. Gail Ricciuti | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed February 08, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/gail-ricciuti.

Remembrances

Know Gail Ricciuti? Tell us your experience.
(All entries are reviewed by the LGBT-RAN office before posting.)