John Gill was born in 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the steel city, known as the Birmingham of the North. Both his parents were native western Pennsylvanians, and for the first eight years of Gill’s life they lived in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh. The youngest of three children, he has a sister four years older. His father was a school administrator in Mt. Lebanon, and in 1953 was called as superintendent of the Plainfield, New Jersey schools. The five years spent in Plainfield were far from the happiest in John's life. “It was a city of 50,000 people divided into two basic categories—rich and poor,” Gill said. “Often I found myself caught in the middle, not being accepted by either group.”
Strong Presbyterians in Pittsburgh, the Gills, after searching for a church home in Plainfield, decided the First Methodist Church had the most to offer. The whole family was involved in church life and young Gill was no exception—choir, Sunday school, and treasurer of the youth group. God was already beginning to move in his life.
In 1958, the family moved to Cheltenham, a suburb of Philadelphia. The town, he said, had a large Jewish population. “These out-going, superfriendly people taught me what it was like to live and love.” The Lord continued to speak to Gill during his six years in Cheltenham. This time in the form of Rev. D. Reginald Thomas, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Germantown. Gill entered Franklin and Marshall College, a small liberal arts school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. After a year and a half as a pre-med biology major, a course in organic chemistry changed his mind. Switching to a major in English not only improved the grades but the lagging spirits of the young collegian.
During the summer of 1966, working at Silver Bay on the shores of Lake George in upstate New York, Gill committed his life to Almighty God. He applied and was accepted at Princeton Theological Seminary. In September, 1967, after graduation from Franklin and Marshall and another summer at Lake George, Gill entered the seminary. It was during his second year there, that he began to doubt his calling. He realized it was just another part of a larger question concerning his sexual orientation. With an acceptance of his total being, and following graduation he began a postdegree internship in the Westfield, New Jersey Presbyterian Church as director of youth activities. “It was a real time of testing and trial,” he said.
At a national conference on the Homosexual and the Christian Church in April 1971, in New York City, he found himself speaking out and declaring his sexual orientation, and the fact that he intended to dedicate his life to a Christian ministry in the homophile community. He was dismissed from his church post, told his parents of his calling, and moved to New York, all within two weeks.
In July, 1971 he met Rev. Troy Perry and in September he was licensed as a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church. On January 6, 1972, Gill organized the Atlanta MCC. He was ordained in September of that same year. He has since served on the National Board of Christian Education, served as Southeast District Coordinator, on the Fellowship By-laws Committee and named to the Samaritan Bible Seminary Board of Trustees. He was elected to the UFMCC Board of Elders at General Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in September, 1973.
After serving one term on the Board of Elders, Rev. Gill retired from the Board and continued to Pastor MCC-Atlanta. In 1975, Gill became the Pastor of MCC-Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he served until he was elected Pastor of MCC of the Resurrection in Houston, Texas in 1985. Rev. Gill also pastored King of Peace MCC in St. Petersburg, Florida for 11 years, and served as interim Pastor in MCC-San Diego, California and MCC-Phoenix, Arizona.
On February 2nd of 2009 Gill celebrated his 25th anniversary with his spouse, John Phlegar. His present plans call for retirement from the active pastoral ministry in 2011, just a few months shy of having served for forty years as clergy in UFMCC.
(This biographical statement provided by John Gill.)
Biography Date: April, 2010
MCC | Presbyterian Church (USA) | Clergy Activist
“Rev. Elder John Gill | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed October 06, 2022, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/john-gill.
“Reverend John Gill is single-handedly responsible for me moving to Washington, D.C. in 1976. My friends had thrown me out of their home because I walked out of an interview with the Southland Corporation, 7-11. They asked me if I had ever had a homosexual experience. I tore up the application and told them to go to hell. My friends told me I should have lied to get a job, maybe I’d change my mind if I got hungry enough. I told them I’d never get that hungry.
My relationship with Reverend Gill began when I approached him for emotional support when I was literally homeless because of my refusal to take a job with a homophobic corporation. He arranged for me to attend the International Conference of Metropolitan Churches in Washington, D.C. in 1976. I am a writer and Reverend Gill encouraged me to keep writing by introducing me to Chasen Gaver, who was in charge of bringing gay poets to the conference in D.C.
I came back to Florida in 1977 to work with Bob Kunst against Anita Bryant in Dade County. I came with my friends Leonard Matlovich and Troy Perry. The Dade County establishment gays refused to let me participate in the fight against the Dade County referendum because my long hair would offend little old ladies. Troy and Leonard stood by me. As a matter of fact, I stood in line for a fundraiser at a Ft. Lauderdale bar, when they refused to let us in when they thought I was straight because of my long hair.
Dear John Gill. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to thank you. I am a stage 4 cancer survivor who has beat the odds so far and come back from the edge of death. You were there at a very important crossroads in my life. As a matter of fact, your kindness is responsible for all the wonderful things that happened to me in the 46 years after you arranged my trip to D.C. You set in motion a series of events that would never have happened if you had not helped me. I vowed to take this precious time to find those who were important in my life and tell them I love them. So I do love you Reverend Gill! ”
– as remembered by Robert Starkey on July 19, 2022
“I met John Gill in Atlanta just after he began his ministry there. I was a sixteen-year-old boy from East Texas who had just come out to his family and was rejected. Not only rejected but rejected with most of my front teeth knocked out by an enraged father. I don't exactly remember how I met Rev. Gill but I did and he inspired in me something I didn't know existed. In the few weeks that we were in communication he instilled in me the love of myself and helped me learn to have faith in myself. This was one of the turning points in my life. I left Atlanta to return to a larger town in East Texas where I went to beauty school. I worked two jobs to support myself and pay tuition and save money for the boards. In a little over two years that dream was completed and I went to work in a local salon torturing hair into position for little old ladies. Then I started back to school to complete my B.A. in Education and was able to complete that in five years while working full-time in the salon. After earning my degree I went to work for the largest hair care company in the world and advanced to the position of Senior Educator there. Now it is over thirty years and there is one and only one person to thank for this and that is the Rev. John Gill. I honestly don't know exactly what he did for me. But as the time approaches for retirement I realize that John not only helped me learn to trust other persons, but that he also taught me to love again. Rev. Gill--THANK YOU for truly giving me life.
– as remembered by William Lile on June 3, 2012
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