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Larry Sanner

Biography

Larry Lee Sanner was born on February 5, 1939, in Lima, Ohio to Harold and Hazel Sanner. He graduated from Ohio Northern University with a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and graduated from seminary at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  He was ordained as an elder in the South Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church.  He was deeply engaged in the Civil Rights Movement at this time, traveling to the South as a freedom rider on interstate buses to protest racial segregation.  He served in pastoral positions in urban ministry in Indianapolis at University, Broadway, Michigan Street congregations, followed by work in the “Southeast Parrish” and a pastorate at Morris Street UMC.  He took graduate classes at Christian Theological Seminary and completed a master’s degree in Personal Theory and religion at Butler University (1971).  

As Larry came into his identity as a gay man, he divorced his wife and left pastoral ministry.  In order to live out his commitment to racial and economic justice, he initially went to work as an investigator for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. Soon after he was one of the first employees hired by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the newly-created Indianapolis District Office, serving first as an investigator and then as an Enforcement Supervisor. He retired in 2018 after a long and distinguished career in civil rights law enforcement. 

Larry advocated justice for LGBTQ+ persons with Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian & Gay Concerns, assisting with Affirmation’s witness at the United Methodist General Conference in Indianapolis in 1980.  He was an active member of North United Methodist Church and tirelessly worked to extend that congregation’s welcome to LGBTQ persons and families, culminating in North UMC becoming a Reconciling Congregation in 2011.

Larry owned a home in the historic Meridian Park neighborhood of Indianapolis, where he was an avid gardener and antique collector.   He became a leader in local community development.  His big-hearted generosity extended to provided temporary housing to persons in need and purchasing and sending toy cars to a medical mission in Kenya. 

Larry’s daughter Renee rekindled a relationship with him while she was in college and lived with him for a number of years.  Larry enjoyed frequent daytrips with Renee during his retirement.  After a severe stroke, Larry moved into a nursing home where he died on November 25, 2022.  

(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from Larry Sanner’s obituary and memorial  service.)

Mary Z. and Marcia Longknight wrote this memorial tribute for Larry Sanner:

Early in vocational life, Larry Sanner was an ordained United Methodist pastor.  For a few years he served as an associate pastor of this congregation. He carried a secret conflict with the denomination’s polity. It states homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and has multiple prohibitions. Larry knew he could lose his sacred pastoral ministry if his sexual orientation was disclosed or exposed.  Guided by conscience to retain honesty, integrity, and for his mental health, Larry left the functions of that call. 

Pained, Larry withdrew from North church temporarily for needed healing time and space.   As a layman in ministry, he was employed in the government Equal Opportunity agency helping citizens gain economic and employment justice.  

In the fall of 1984 as we, Mary Z. Longstreth and Marcia Knight, set up Indianapolis residence, a Tennessee friend alerted us to a person known in National Affirmation meetings of United Methodist Gay and Lesbians who lived in Indianapolis. She encouraged our making a connection with Rev. Larry Sanner. 

Our acquaintance began with a phone conversation. We stated a plan to join North United Methodist Church the next Sunday.   Larry and his partner planned to be there, so we agreed to meet after the worship service.  

We easily found each other.  They invited us to lunch at the Aristocrat restaurant where a long-term friendship began. To Larry’s knowledge there were no lesbian or gay identified members in the congregation although, certainly, some were closeted, also family members of lesbian and gay men.  Our participation at North church began without openly disclosing our sexual orientation except to the Pastor, Dr. Richard “Dick” Hamilton, who warmly welcomed us.  

We four met often.  Over time more Gay adults learned about us and gravitated to fellowship in the sanctuary after worship. Customarily, other adults and children sought refreshments and socialized in the parlor. They were unaware gay people gathered in the sanctuary had found safety and quiet space to connect.                                                                       

The group grew. More communication was needed that prompted us to generate a postal newsletter for forty-plus persons, many from local United Methodist churches. We met monthly in varied homes.  Pastor Hamilton supported the group and suggested it be named Affirmation to represent local affiliation with national Affirmation that we four attended. That name stuck. 

Affirmation members recognized the need to provide leadership in North’s ministry to advocate the full inclusion for all people regardless of sexual orientation.  Starting that process in 1987, Larry, Marcia, Mary Z., and Dan Evans volunteered to visit Social Concerns Committee meetings to initiate open discussions about homosexuality.  

As adults in mid-life, each “came out” by disclosing personal history struggles that intersected sexuality, faith. and self-understanding.  Each spoke of experiences of deep incongruence with the United Methodist’s Discipline polity regarding homosexuality and knew its harmful impacts. Soon after, the committee addressed the Administrative Board asking for study and discourse churchwide.

Affirmation members melded with a church family and friends’ group that acknowledged close relationships with Gay people. Through twenty-four years this congregation wrestled human sexuality’s interface with Christian biblical beliefs and practices. Larry’s patient and quiet persistent manner represented Gay perspectives amid church dialogues.  

Over time, Marcia and I appreciated happenings that more fully revealed Larry’s nature. In 1988 while preparing a move to Washington D.C., we gladly accepted Larry and Tim’s offer to help move household possessions into a rented truck. That task was nearly done as the men carried another heavy load. Suddenly, they stopped and said, “Wait! Stop. Why are we doing this?  We don’t want them to move. Why are we loading their stuff to leave us?”  They continued and shared bittersweet goodbyes as we left. 

A year and a half later, Marcia was in Indianapolis on a business trip. Their idea, the men gathered friends for a meal at Larry’s house for Marcia.  Mary Z. was missed, so the group phoned her. Soon one started a chant that all joined repeating: “One more year! One more year!”   

A year later, the spring of 1990, Marcia and I again prepared to move. Without our prior knowledge, Larry and Tim traveled to Washington D.C.  and called to schedule a visit. By happenstance, in serendipitous timing, the men saw our situation and finished loading the rental truck destined for Indianapolis. 

Larry’s vision of seeing property renovation potential was questioned when Marcia and I first visited a newly purchased house on 32nd Street.  We saw a 1920s brick structure that needed an excess of passionate care and skilled upgrades, especially for its woodfire soot covered interior walls and vaulted ceiling. We underestimated his abilities and persistence to accomplish that and enjoyed this beautifully refurbished home. 

Early in the friendship, Larry and partner addressed or referred to us as “the girls.”  Confronting them about our distaste for their using those words, we started calling them boys.  Appearing surprised with indignation, “We’re not boys.”  So, what do you want to be called?  “We’re men.”  We coached, “We are women so, if you’d drop using girls, we will call you men.” The agreement lasted.  

Through our twenty-seven years of friendship at North, and longer with this congregation, all were enriched by Larry’s presence. In September 2011, though living far apart, we celebrated with him North’s decision to be a Reconciling Ministry Congregation. Knowing acceptance as an openly gay man in this United Methodist Church family, he had a deeper joy and peace thereafter.

Thanks be to God for the love, courage, and Christian service of Larry Sanner’s life in and beyond North United Methodist Church.     July 17, 2023

Biography Date: August 2023

Additional Resources

Recording of Larry Sanner's Celebration of Life at North UMC on July 22, 2023:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvgtQvva298

Obituary for Larry Sanner in the Indianapolis Star:  https://www.indystar.com/obituaries/ins144521

Tags

Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Clergy Activist | Civil Rights Movement | Reconciling Ministries Network (formerly Reconciling Congregation Program) | Indianapolis | Indiana

Citation

“Larry Sanner | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed July 19, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/larry-sanner.

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