Michael Collins was born in October, 1947 in Rangely, Colorado, to Robert Collins and Margaret Jeane Waites. Following the accidental death of his father, Michael and his younger brother Patrick were adopted by John L Collins (Bob’s younger brother) and his wife Phyllis Jeanne. A sister, Marcie, and brother Randall were born to the boys’ adoptive parents. Michael graduated from David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon, in 1965 and enrolled at Portland State University. He graduated with a B.S. in sociology in 1969 and married his wife Huntly that same year. During his college years, he was active in campus ministry and served on the national coordinating committee of the University Christian Movement.
Collins began studies at St. Paul School of Theology in 1969 where he further developed his interest and commitment to social justice in urban settings. He received an M.Div. degree with emphasis in Ethics and Social Change in 1972. As president of the seminary student body, Michael attended the 1972 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) He was ordained in the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC and served urban churches in Portland – first Patton Central UMC (Scandinavian and German) and then Hughes Memorial UMC (African American). He also served as Urban Consultant to the Portland Metropolitan District of the UMC.
During this period, he also engaged with the United Methodist Gay Caucus which was organized in the summer of 1975 in Evanston, Illinois. Collins moved to New York City in 1977 to take a position as an administrative assistant for Urban/Rural Development and University/Youth Ministries at the Board of Global Ministries. The Gay Caucus changed its name to Affirmation and in 1978 and Michael became one of the group's co-conveners. He took a sabbatical leave in 1979 to study and organize on gay/lesbian concerns in the denomination. During that time, he traveled throughout the U.S. speaking on campuses and in congregations; writing articles for religious publications; providing counseling; and attending educational events. He also organized an expanded presence of LGBT folk at the 1980 General Conference of the UMC. Affirmation achieved more visibility in the press, a daily newsletter was distributed throughout the conference, and important and impactful resolutions and public statements were made – a break-through for gay and lesbian people of faith. Most importantly Affirmation offered then – and with its partners in the Love Your Neighbor Coalition still offers – a ministry of presence to the General Conference, witnessing to the divine call for justice and inclusion and providing a pastoral ministry to those deeply affected by the denomination’s worsening and punitive stance toward LGBT people in general and marriage equality in particular.
Collins maintained his clergy status in the church by being appointed to a non-stipended position with Clergy and Laity Concerned. He juggled a number of part-time jobs: teaching college courses, working in campus ministry, writing and lecturing, and housecleaning. He died from complications from AIDS in October, 1984.
Collins was one of the early "out" gay clergy and served a model and confidant for many others. He had a lasting impact on all those with whom he interacted from his early days as a camp counselor at Loon Lake United Methodist Camp in Oregon, through to his continued national efforts with interfaith gay and lesbian communities.
Among the many important folks whose lives Michael shared, were his partners of many years--first Richard Cash and later Douglas Colesworthy – as well as his former wife and life-time friend, Huntly. The real jewel of Michael’s continuing presence among us, however, is how well he is remembered and how much he is still missed.
(This biographical statement was initially prepared by Jeremy Landau with additional information provided by Mark Bowman and Judy Cayot. Morris Floyd added additional information and revised the statement after an interview with Michael’s younger brother R.C. Collins and Michael’s niece Kerra Haven.)
Biography Date: April 2007; revised May 2019
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Activist (religious institutions) | Clergy Activist | New York | New York City | Collins, Michael | EXHIBIT The UMC Gay Caucus
“Michael L. Collins | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 29, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/michael-l-collins.
“The first day Michael came to work at the General Board of Global Ministries I asked him to come to lunch with me. We had many, many points of commonality, and we shared lunch hours for several years. We soon discovered we shared a birthday (perhaps the solidifying element of our friendship). I was separating from my Native American husband, and Michael virtually and sometimes literally held my hand. I was distraught when Michael left for his continuing work, but we certainly didn’t lose touch. When Michael was diagnosed with AIDS, and later when he was hospitalized, I was devastated (I’m still devastated). It was crushing to see Michael in the hospital, and not my handsome friend. My son was born about eight months before Michael died - to this day I regret I didn’t take him to meet Michael. But we did take him to the memorial for Michael held at the West Fourth United Methodist church. Although distraught, I was able to get up and declare that Michael was my best friend.
My husband joined ACT-UP in memory of Michael and we went to Pride marches and I went to more than 20 years of AIDS Walks in his honor. It was agonizing to see his square in the AIDS Quilt but also uplifting. I still miss him - one of the best friends I ever had. I hope he had his special place in heaven.”
– as remembered by Ann Gael on July 9, 2020
“My brother Mike loved music (possibly more than breathing). Mike had a tin ear. He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket as it were. In his teens, he took piano lessons for some time. He learned to read and hit the right keys in the right order, but never could make the music sound right. He just couldn’t translate it to his actions.
After he got his first church assignment, Mike told us he announced from the pulpit that he loves to sing, he loves to sing loud, and that he can’t carry a tune. He warned them that if they didn’t want to hear him, they will need to sing louder than he does.”
– as remembered by Kerra Haven for her father Randall Collins on April 5, 2019
“It must have been about 1982, +or- a year or two, that Michael was told by the Bishop of the Oregon/Idaho Conference that he would not be appointed to serve a church. He showed up at our United Methodist Annual Conference meeting at the University of Redlands in Redlands, CA. I sat on the lawn with Michael, out under a tree, as the opening worship was getting underway in the chapel. We could hear the organ music and singing that signaled the beginning of the Conference, a reunion of friends and colleagues, joining in Christian worship. Tears came to our eyes as Michael expressed his grief at no longer belonging, no longer being considered fit to serve. We were outsiders sharing our pain. ”
– as remembered by Ed Hansen on May 13, 2013
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