Lyle Loder was a key leader in development of an LGBT witness among United Methodists in southern California during the early 1980s. Along with several other young gay laymen and a few clergy, they formed a chapter of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian and Gay Concerns in what was then the Pacific and Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Lyle was born in Little River, Kansas, to Paul and Ethyle Loder. He grew up in a church-going family on a farm near Marquette, Kansas with a brother and a sister and attended Marquette High School. Lyle’s social consciousness seems to have been developing early, since in his junior year of high school he wrote an essay entitled “Peace is Obtainable,” which won second place in a state competition and was presented at the local Lioness Club in May of 1967. The local newspaper records a number of other community service efforts in which he participated during high school. Following his graduation from high school, Lyle attended Hutchinson (Kansas) Junior College for two years and in 1970 transferred to Kansas Wesleyan University (KWU) in Salina.
Feeling called to the United Methodist ministry, Lyle studied philosophy and religion and served a student pastorate while at KWU. From the 1972 Coyote (the KWU yearbook): "The folks in [Lyle’s] student-pastor parish called him 'preacher boy' and his KW friends count him as a man with a genuine concern for others.... He was a valuable voice in choir and Madrigals…."
Lyle’s dream of serving as a United Methodist clergyman was never realized. A retired Kansas clergyman remembers meeting Lyle when he was interviewed by The Salina (Kansas) District Board of Ordained Ministry. He says of Lyle, “I liked him a lot. I thought him a very talented and charismatic young man.” The clergyman does not remember why the District Board declined to move Lyle’s candidacy forward to the Conference, but he remembers that the District Superintendent discouraged even him from hiring Lyle as a summer youth minister. Moreover, by the time of his graduation from KWU, the denomination had incorporated into its Discipline the language describing same-sex relationships as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Thus Lyle’s choice not to hide his identity doomed his hope to be ordained. It did not keep him from being in ministry. Instead he sought and eventually gained participation in the US-2 Program, a short term domestic mission service program of the denomination. Rightly or wrongly, Lyle believed church officials in Kansas tried to sabotage his application to the US-2 program, or that the Mission Board’s psychologist did so, having determined he was gay, because he was not approved on his initial application. Ironically, the anecdotal evidence is that the US-2 program has had a disproportionately high proportion of LGBT participants, something officials have never dared to acknowledge.
As a US-2 Lyle was assigned to State Street Housing in Camden, NJ, a division of the fledgling Respond, Inc., which had been created in a joint venture between residents of that community and the United Methodist congregation in nearby suburban Haddonfield. The housing agency was set up to support residents in their efforts to secure decent rental housing and eventually to own a home. Lyle helped to run the program and thereby learned the property management skills that became his profession.
In 1980, Lyle and his partner moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and settled in a small West Hollywood apartment. The apartment was within convenient walking distance to a local watering hole that gave Lyle a place to enjoy his beloved country-western dancing. In time, United Methodist connections led him into two efforts to establish an LGBT presence and witness in the Conference. He joined with two clergy members of the Annual Conference, Morris Floyd (who was in process of coming out to the Conference at the time) and Perry Wiggins, to start a chapter of Affirmation, the United Methodist caucus of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their supporters that at the time was the main group working for a more inclusive church policy.
In addition, Lyle wanted to find or create a local congregation that would welcome lesbian and gay United Methodists. It was his view that the congregation at worship and at work in the community was ultimately a more appropriate venue for ministry than a separate lesbian/gay specific group such as Affirmation. The two efforts converged in 1982 when the Rev. Tom Reinhart-Marean, a few months into his pastorate at Crescent Heights UMC (CHUMC), a small congregation with an aging population, asked for help in navigating the terrain of West Hollywood’s gay and lesbian community and invited Affirmation to make its base at the church.
In the LA and greater Southern California area at the time, Affirmation witnessed to local churches and to the Annual Conference about the importance of justice in church and society for LGBT folk. Because he was willing to be “out,” Lyle was in the thick of it. If the Annual Conference wouldn’t allow Affirmation a booth on its own, he would ask – and if necessary – charm the Methodist Federation for Social Action into hosting the Affirmation presence (not that it took much to convince these hospitable folk!). Beyond its witness, Affirmation also provided an opportunity for faith-based social connections among its constituency. Perhaps the most important of these were gatherings during sessions the Annual Conference which permitted participation by clergy who might not have attended events in LA or San Diego. The Redlands home of Perry Wiggins’ parents and a restaurant called the Carriage House in nearby Palm Springs were popular venues for these gatherings.
For Lyle and the others, the presence at CHUMC was an essential part of Affirmation’s support of the United Methodist Church. They wanted to show that the hateful words of its Discipline were not the last thing to be said, and they believed (in these years before the Reconciling Congregation Program started) a place where openly gay and lesbian people could worship and learn in an inviting environment and use as a base for discipleship was essential. CHUMC Pastor Tom was serving his second pastoral appointment, recruited for it by Los Angeles District Superintendent Ignacio Castuera to have someone at the church who would welcome the West Hollywood community and strengthen the struggling congregation.
Ultimately CHUMC did not prove to be fertile territory for an LGBT-inviting congregation during those years. It was not for lack of effort. Three supportive pastors in succession did what they could, some of the existing members did what they could, and the newcomers offered their presence, their treasure, and their prayers. But welcome cannot be forced.
Eventually Lyle and some of his friends migrated to Hollywood UMC (HUMC), where “Nacho” Castuera had been appointed pastor after leaving his role as District Superintendent. Nacho’s commitment to full inclusion of LGBT Christians had long been visible in the Annual Conference and continued in his pastorate at HUMC. Lyle was the first person to “come out” to the congregation in 1986 as a person living with AIDS. Castuera remembers that Lyle was not a single-issue advocate. He wrote,
“Lyle was a crusader against all forms of oppression and never hesitated to speak up and act whenever he perceived that a wrong was being committed. During the first grape boycott by César Chávez’s Farm Workers Union, Lyle was present at a luncheon sponsored by a church-related organization. Noticing that the salad being served had grapes, Lyle proceeded to remind us all that as a conference and as a denomination we had decided to support the Farm Workers Union. Lyle then proceeded to pull out all the grapes from the salad and toss them into the garbage can.” *
In early 1987 the Health and Welfare Ministries Division of the Board of Global Ministries (HWM), under the leadership of Associate General Secretary Cathie Lyons, began planning for a consultation on AIDS. The purpose was to assist Annual Conferences and local churches to understand and respond effectively to the opportunities and challenges for ministry offered by the pandemic, especially in the context of the disdain for the loving relationships of LGBT people, as expressed in the denomination’s official policies. Ms. Lyons invited Affirmation to name a representative to the planning committee, a role that would normally have been filled by a caucus spokesperson. Instead Affirmation suggested that Lyle as a person with AIDS should participate, and HWM invited co-spokesperson Morris Floyd as an additional representative. Cathie Lyons remembers being deeply impressed in the planning process by Lyle's deep concern for the spread of HIV/AIDS within communities that were not ready to address it for fear of stigma, specifically the Black community.
Hundreds of United Methodists attended the October consultation at a hotel in Burlingame, California, near the San Francisco International Airport. They attended workshops dealing with theological concerns as well as the very practical matters of supporting people with AIDS, their families, partners and other loved ones; were called to understand the multiple communities affected by the pandemic; and challenged to address controversial public policy issues. In addition, they shared in worship and Biblical reflection. Participants were perhaps most affected by Lyle’s participation on a panel sharing his story and in the midst of it, despite everything, his love for God and his refusal to give up on the United Methodist Church. He was frail and only a few weeks from death, though he did not know it at the time. If ever God’s Spirit was present anywhere, it shone in Lyle in those hours.
Lyle was blessed with many friends, family of choice, and intimate friends during his life. At Thanksgiving 1986 Lyle attended a gathering hosted by the Rev. Bert All at his Pasadena home. The Rev. Rob Stewart, associate pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Newport Beach, also attended – arriving late when most had gone home. Rob remembers he immediately “fell under Lyle’s spell.” Despite the distance between Newport Beach and Lyle’s West Hollywood apartment, the two fell into a relationship that lasted until Lyle’s death, Rob admiring Lyle “for being himself, being open, trusting, fighting for his faith as for his life.”
November 29, 1987, the day before his birthday, Lyle went into the hospital and was delighted to receive a visit from his brother, who had just arrived to share the family’s love. The next day Lyle entered a coma from which he never awoke. When Lyle died on December 2 many friends came to the hospital. They spread rose petals on the bed and gathered in a room the hospital provided to sing hymns and share support for one another.
Memorial services were held at Hollywood United Methodist Church and at Lyle’s home church in Kansas. Rob took Lyle’s ashes to Kansas and placed them in the ground at family cemetery plot, as he had wished
Three panels for the AIDS quilt beautifully memorialize Lyle’s life. One of them, designed by Rob and made by Church and Community Worker Donna Kay Campbell, is pictured here.
* “Baptism Bread and Bonds,” in Homosexuality and the Christian Faith, Walter Wink, ed. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) 1999
(This biographical profile was prepared by Lyle’s friend Morris Floyd based on his own memory, conversations with others who knew Lyle well, and archival research.)
Biography Date: May, 2016