The Rev. Patricia de Jong was born from a long line of Dutch Calvinists, a cloistered community that even continued to hold services in Dutch in her childhood. The community also incorporated the church into the raising of children, with most of Pat's early schooling taking place within religious schools. From her tradition, she appreciated the emphasis on God's grace. Although perhaps it was not what her teachers intended, Pat grew to understand that no matter what one does, God is gracious and grace is pervasive. God's grace and love would overcome exclusivity. She had grown up a child with deeply religious instincts, yet also was ostracized. This led her to take Jesus and God as her friends and companions, a feeling that would be the foundation of her strong sense of identification with God. Although LGBT people were present, it was an issue that was rarely if ever spoken of, past perhaps a few derisive looks at those in the community who were assumed to be LGBT. This silence around LGBT people, at the time primarily conceived as homosexuality, continued into her undergraduate career. When she was studying at Calvin College from 1967 until 1969, when she was expelled from the school, Pat knew of no out LGBT people at the school. Her expulsion resulted from anti-war services that she preached at, sometimes gaining as many as 700 or 800 attendants. She continued her undergraduate at Western Michigan University, getting a Bachelor's degree in Speech and English in 1971. She felt called to some sort of ministry, even if this were not allowed in her church.
Her call to ministry was one that took her family and community by surprise. When she left for seminary at the Pacific School of Religion at the age of 24, she left behind her family and her fiance, becoming a pariah to her community. Her parents prayed that her ordination would not send her to the devil. With a lack of support, Pat began to see herself as an outsider, which helped her to be understanding of people who had been marginalized, or who might be seen as 'not fitting' with the larger society. Although she was planning on simply obtaining a Masters Degree in Theology and Arts, she felt called to the ordained ministry once she studied at seminary. When she graduated with an Masters of Divinity degree in 1975, she became a campus minister at the University of Oregon as a member of the Presbyterian Church. When the general assembly was held in San Diego in 1976, she learned that the church had decided to not extend ordination rights to gay and lesbian people. At hearing this decision, Pat decided to leave the denomination, since she felt that she could not be a part of a discriminatory church. It was a powerful moment for her to learn that she had such a strong instinct towards justice. She believed that it was not only that she couldn't be part of an exclusionary church, but that justice was the church's issue. It was difficult for her to find a church that was open enough for her.
After being an unaffiliated campus minister at University of California Berkeley from 1977 until 1979, she was ordained as a United Church of Christ (UCC) minister, and became a campus minister at San Francisco State University. Although the UCC allowed for lesbian and gay people to become ordained, the issue was still controversial. In fact, it was only two years prior that the church had ordained its first lesbian clergy member. Being on campus was part of the reason that Pat was so intent on this aspect of justice, since she was also working in other justice movements on campus, such as the anti-war movement. For her, religious beliefs could not just be a personal statement or spirituality, they must be translated into action and responsibility to the world.
From there, Pat was called to become the Minister of Education for Christian Discipleship at Riverside Church in New York City in 1984. The church had many prominent lesbian and gay members and staff, but it was also at this time that the AIDS epidemic was making a large mark upon the LGBT community. Pat found herself performing many funerals for members of the church who succumbed to the disease. In 1985, she was assigned to work with a group to write an “Open and Affirming” statement for the church, denoting that the church was Welcoming to all LGBT people. This process proved to be extremely controversial for the church, despite having many gay and lesbian people within the church community. In fact, the decision to become the first UCC church to be “Open and Affirming” even divided the opinions of the staff at the church. During the process, Pat invited multiple theologians to come and speak to the church on the issue, including James Nelson. The Maranatha group, an LGBT UCC advocacy group, was also instrumental in educating many of the congregants. When voted upon, the decision was to become Open and Affirming, but the margin was not a large one.
When Pat moved to the UCC Urbandale in Des Moines as the senior minister in 1988, her reputation for championing the rights of gay and lesbian people preceded her. The church's lesbian and gay population grew substantially upon her joining the church. She also started an AIDS network, working within the state to bring awareness to the issue of AIDS. When the time came for the church to decide whether to become Open and Affirming arrived, it was not nearly as controversial of a decision as it had been for Riverside. The church voted to become Open and Affirming by 123-3.
Pat was then called to become the Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley in 1994. Soon after her arrival, that church also became Open and Affirming. The entire process had become much easier in the decade since she had started in Riverside, and she was well known for being a proponent of the process. Not only was the congregation well informed on LGBT issues and personally knew LGBT people, but the presence of AIDS had also led to a respect and dignity for the surviving LGBT community. When she arrived, she also let the congregation know that she was willing to perform commitment ceremonies, which she began in 1995 without any controversy from her parish. Her work in the parish in the intervening years has not been one where LGBT issues are the forum of public discussion and debate, but are lived in the community. LGBT people are present not only in the staff, but in the pulpit of the congregation, and the most that issues around LGBT people come up within the church have been political advocacy for their rights. One of these instances was when in 2008 she led her congregation to become a “No on Prop 8” congregation, which succeeded. The church would become the de facto phone center of the campaign.
She is currently still serving at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, along with being a Trustee of the Pacific School of Religion. She lives with her husband, author Sam Keen.
(This biographical statement from phone interview with Rev. de Jong by Joel Layton)
Biography Date: March, 2012
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Ally | Clergy Activist | Berkeley | California | DeJong, Patricia