Ray Bagnuolo was born in November of 1951 and grew up in the Bronx, New York, within an Italian-Irish family and not surprisingly, as a Roman Catholic. He attended Roman Catholic schools until his junior year in college, when he transferred to C.W. Post College, Long Island University in Brookville, New York. He finished those studies in 1973 with a B.A. in Spanish.
Upon graduation, Ray thought he would teach--or even enter into the religious life--but it was not to be. As a gay man there were many conflicts with that direction, conflicts that were insurmountable for him and would ultimately push him away from formal religion for several years. Instead he decided to continue part-time work in sales and marketing on a full-time basis, a career that would last over twenty years!
In 1989, Ray’s early desire to teach took hold again. So sixteen years after graduating college, he left the sales and marketing job and returned to graduate school, earning a Masters in Arts Teaching for Elementary and Special Education. By 2009, when he retired from teaching, he had worked for seventeen years in the Ossining Public Schools in Ossining, New York. While there he taught students in grades 5 – 12, regular and special education, as well as several other teaching assignments including G.E.D instructor and as a graduate level Adjunct Professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.
In 1995, Ray unexpectedly met a group of Presbyterians working for full-inclusion of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer community (LGBTQ) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He was encouraged by their faithful achievements and their vision of the prospects for just and loving change in their denomination. He was especially attracted by the way in which they knew God and God’s love for all. Ray’s time away from the church had ended. That “chance” encounter began a new path, and yet a familiar one, building on his early sense of call to ministry many years before.
By 2003, Ray had completed seminary, interim training and Clinical Pastoral Education (chaplaincy training) in a Trauma One hospital setting. In 2005, he was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC (USA), as an openly gay man. He was called to serve his first congregation as part-time interim pastor while continuing to teach high school special education. After three years as interim, it was clear to Ray that this was the path he was called to follow and retired early from teaching in 2009 at the age of 57.
During those years of preparation and candidacy, Ray faced many of the same struggles that other folk who were called and Queer experienced. There were times, in the midst of some of the ugliest attempts to keep us out of the church, that he wondered what he was doing – feeling as though he was back in those days of marginalization from his early church experiences. If it were not for the faithful and determined allies, colleagues and friends who stood with him and others during those years and beyond, it would have been a different path for him, for sure, but more—for the ultimate stunning changes in the denomination during the 2010’s.
From 2009 until early 2013, Ray served an inner-city congregation in New York City, with a large outreach to folks living in homeless conditions. Along with ministry to sisters and brothers with much less than anyone should ever have, this congregation provided a welcoming for all, including space for 52 twelve step meetings that continue to gather each week there. Their slogan was, “You were welcome here long before you arrived.” Ray “borrowed” that from South Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where he first learned about the love and justice of a welcoming congregation.
In those days, installed (permanent) positions for openly Queer ministers were few and far between. To this day Ray has yet to have a permanent installed position as a pastor in the PC(USA). So, as he finished his temporary call as Stated Supply Pastor in 2013, Ray accepted a full-time leadership role for That All May Freely Serve, a national grass roots organization that is committed to prayer, presence and advocacy in making the PC(USA) a more welcoming denomination to the LGBTQ community. Today That All May Freely Serve functions as an all-volunteer organization, taking advantage of social media and networking practices to provide a national network of helpers around the country, available to support the LGBTQ community and friends. With that transitional work completed, he began a process of discernment in seeking a congregation to serve. In December of 2016, I was called to serve a welcoming and affirming congregation in the United Church of Christ—as an installed pastor!
The journey continues to unfold for us all, especially as God continues to reveal Godself in the world. Surely, that is the Good News—especially for a time such as this.
(This biographical statement provided by Ray Bagnuolo.)
Biography Date: January, 2017