June Norris was born in Colorado on June 30, 1922, and raised in the Baptist Church in southern Illinois. She was married at 15 and had three children by age 20. “Back in those days, kids did get married young, especially in southern Illinois. That’s the kind of country place where I lived”, Norris said.
After 28 years of marriage, she left her husband and their Florida home. “I decided I wanted to become whoever I am, because he wanted me to be just his wife,” she said. She decided to go to California to go to college. She got her GED in Florida when she was 46.
As an adult, Norris attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and she took a job at the church’s White Memorial Hospital in Glendale, California, attending East Los Angeles College at night. New to the city, she looked up her only relative in the area, her sister’s son, Ted Sweet, who had moved to Los Angeles after a divorce. One night at dinner, Sweet told his aunt he was gay. After her nephew left, Norris began doing research. “I was trying to find out why he thought he was gay, because I didn’t think he was,” she said. “I didn’t know very much about them. I’d heard there were people like that, but I didn’t think I knew anybody who was gay. I didn’t think I’d ever met anybody like that.” Although naïve, Norris had not been raised to think badly of homosexuals. After taking her nephew to church one Saturday, she agreed to go on Sunday to a new church he had been attending. “It was the first building they had bought,” she said. “It was a church on Union Street in Los Angeles. When I approached it, there was this beautiful stained glass window, with Jesus and his hands outstretched. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really a church.’ I had always had a strong spiritual life,” she said. “I had never felt the same kind of feeling about a church that I had in that building. I think it was God speaking to me. I think I was being called to this ministry at that moment, but I didn’t know what it all meant.
She joined MCC-Los Angeles in November, 1971 (the same day as Frank Zerilli, Rev. Troy Perry’s assistant). Norris entered the church’s seminary, Samaritan Bible School, in 1971 to begin her studies, in 1972 she was licensed as an Exhorter (student clergy), licensed as Clergy in 1973 and was ordained in 1974, becoming the first heterosexual and second woman (after Rev. Freda Smith) ordained in MCC. In 1976, Norris was called into the administrator’s office at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital where she worked and was told to “clean out your desk.” She was told it was behavior unbecoming of a Seventh Day Adventists hospital because she was involved with a church that had homosexuals in it.
Rev. Troy Perry put her on staff at MCC-Los Angeles, where she remained until 1980 when she answered a call to Pastor MCC-Fayetteville, North Carolina. While pastoring in Fayetteville, the pulpit at St. John’s MCC in Raleigh, North Carolina, became vacant and she was asked to answer a call to Raleigh. She pastored both congregations for a while until she moved to Raleigh full-time. While in Raleigh, she stood up to Southern Bell after it notified her that the church could not identify itself with the word “gay” in their phone book. “I told them it would be on their heads if someone committed suicide because they couldn’t find us,” she said. She won the argument. She remained pastor there until 1988 when she moved to California for some time off and reflection. In 1989, Rev. Norris was called to pastor Church of the Holy Spirit MCC in Des Moines, Iowa where she remained until she retired in 1992.
In addition to her pastoral duties, Rev. Norris has served the UFMCC in various capacities: from 1983-87 she served on the Clergy Credentials & Concerns Committee; she was a founding member of White People Healing Racism; from 1985-86 she served as Assistant District Coordinator for the Gulf Lower Atlantic District and from 1983-87, served as UFMCC liaison to the National Council of Churches’ Family Ministry & Human Sexuality Committee.
Rev. Norris retired to Escondido, California, where she was an active member of MCC-San Diego. She died on December 14, 2010.
(This biographical sketch put together from an article in the North County Times 1/19/07 by Gary Warth and an article in MCC-San Diego’s “Prodigal” and updated by Rev. June Norris)
Biography Date: May, 2010
MCC | Perry, Troy | Smith, Freda | Ally | Clergy Activist