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Tricia Dykers Koenig | Profile

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Biography

Patricia “Tricia” Dykers Koenig was born in Honolulu in 1954 to Andrew and Nancy Dykers.  Tricia’s parents met while students at Tulane University and married after graduation.  Her father joined the U.S. Navy and was based in Honolulu.  A year after Tricia’s birth, the family moved back to Cleveland, Tennessee, her mother’s hometown. Tricia spent her early years around family in Cleveland.  Her father worked in a family chemical business there, but later changed his career path and became a stockbroker.  When he took a position with a brokerage firm in Richmond, Virginia, the family moved there. Tricia was 12 years old. There were two younger brothers and a sister in the family by then.  

Tricia devoted her energies to studying and learning in these formative years.  She attended the Collegiate School for Girls beginning in 8th grade, and graduated from Collegiate as valedictorian in 1972.  She was the goalkeeper for the field hockey team, copy editor for the yearbook, and class treasurer, among other activities.  She was also interested in politics from her family’s Republican perspectives. The Dykers family had been members of Methodist churches until Tricia was in 10th grade and then switched to a Presbyterian Church.  Tricia was active in youth activities at the church.   

Tricia began college at Duke University expecting to follow a political science or journalism track.  She found a network of friends who were involved in Young Life, an evangelical Christian ministry, and volunteered in a Young Life program with students at a Durham high school.  Many in this circle of friends worshiped at an evangelical Presbyterian congregation near campus and did Bible studies together.  When asked to declare a major at the end of her first year, Tricia became clear that she wanted to study religion.  She took as many religion courses as she could and became deeply interested in historical-critical study of the Bible.  She studied archeology and spent a summer working at a dig in the Galilee.  She gradually found her religious and political perspectives opening up and changing through her studies.  She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. degree in Religion in December 1975. 

Tricia had applied to seminary at Princeton, Yale and McCormick with the intention of going on to pursue a Ph.D.  Her archeological connections led to a scholarship from McCormick where she enrolled in the fall of 1976.  Seminary provided Tricia the opportunity to begin to integrate her academic study of religion in college with her personal faith.  While she enjoyed being immersed in a religious milieu, Tricia also began to realize that she was tiring of classwork and losing interest in postgraduate study.   She began dating a McCormick classmate, Mark Koenig, and they were married after their second year.  They did a yearlong internship together at Cavalier County Parish in Langdon, North Dakota before returning to McCormick to graduate in 1980. 

Tricia and Mark accepted a call to co-pastor a rural, ecumenical parish in southern Iowa and lived in the town of Diagonal. Tricia was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in July 1980. She and Mark supported three of their five churches, comprised of United Methodist, Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ congregations, as they moved into a federation.  The U.S. farm crisis of the early 1980s deeply affected the lives of their parishioners. Their first son, Sean, was born there. 

After five years of satisfying ministry in Iowa, Tricia and Mark felt the desire to move closer to family in the eastern U.S.   In the winter of 1985 they circulated their names for a new call and fairly quickly were called to Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  They served as co-pastors of this congregation for fifteen years.  Their second son, Eric, was born here. 

The Noble Road congregation had a strong adult education program that studied a wide variety of issues and concerns. Tricia was elected to be a commissioner to the Presbyterian General Assembly in Baltimore in summer 1991.  A major agenda item was to be a human sexuality report, “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice.”  This study attempted to frame human and sexual relationships through a justice-love ideal.  While it dealt broadly with human sexuality, controversies were brewing over how it addressed homosexuality.  Tricia was sympathetic to much of what was presented in the report.  In preparation for the General Assembly the local Presbytery scheduled two listening nights where parishioners could come and speak to the report.  Tricia attended these sessions in order to hear the concerns and ideas people were sharing.  Tricia was shocked by the extremely negative language about homosexuality expressed by some participants in these sessions; she remembers leaving the second session in tears.

Tricia had been aware of the General Assembly debates and actions around LGBT persons dating back to her seminary years and the 1978 report on the Church and Homosexuality.  However, she never quite understood why it was so controversial.  Since Tricia hadn’t had opportunity knowingly to engage LGBT persons in her ministry to this point, she felt little personal investment in this concern. 

Tricia was deeply moved by her experience at the Presbytery’s listening nights and her participation in the General Assembly.  She was once again upset by the rhetoric at General Assembly, incredulous that so-called Christians could talk about other persons in such derogatory, condemnatory words.  She could not see how such visceral hatred could be of Christ.  She began to see a real dissonance between her understanding of Jesus and what the church was doing in this area. 

While the General Assembly did not accept the Human Sexuality Report, it did recommend that congregations study it.  So Tricia resolved to learn all she could about LGBT persons and concerns. She went to the library to find relevant books. After pausing to wonder whether there would be personal ramifications if she checked these booked out, she did take them home and started reading.    

When husband Mark was doing continuing education later that summer in North Carolina, Tricia decided to visit her brother who lived outside Atlanta.  For the first time it occurred to her that this brother was single and not known to be dating women—and so he could be gay.  Feeling it wasn’t appropriate to broach this subject with him directly, she left the books she was reading lying around during her visit.  As she talked with him about what she was reading and learning, he came out to her.  This moved Tricia’s study into a more personal dimension, and soon she became aware of more and more LGBT people in her life. 

Tricia led the Noble Road congregation in a 12-week study of the Human Sexuality Report.  Following that, a group of about a dozen persons expressed interest in moving forward to engage LGBT concerns.  Someone in the group suggested they look into becoming a More Light congregation.  This was 1992 when there were repercussions against Presbyterian congregations that publicly declared their support for LGBT persons.  This More Light move felt risky and scary.  But Tricia and the group proceeded to gather information and study together.  They sent a letter of all of the More Light Churches in the U.S.  (around 60 at that time) to ask them about their experiences.  They received very positive responses back from these inquiries.     

A year later the Noble Road Session (church council) voted to engage official study of becoming a More Light Church and in 1994 voted to make this commitment.  A few members left because of the vote and the controversy that accompanied it.   Yet this More Light designation became a large part of the congregation’s identity and ministry since it was the only such Presbyterian congregation in the metropolitan area.

As she delved more deeply into the issues, Tricia felt an increasingly intense call to address LGBT concerns in the church.  The 1993 General Assembly voted to be in dialogue on sexuality for three years and not take any actions during that time.  Tricia was invited to a strategizing session with LGBT persons and allies to determine how to best use this period of study.  While she had had little interaction with these movement leaders previously, Tricia felt this was important to do.  Tricia met and lived with this group for several days in a country home near Baltimore to brainstorm and lay out plans.  As the group started discussing the creation of a task force to oversee implementation of its plans, Tricia was surprised that she was nominated to serve.  She agreed to work on what became the Unity Through Diversity Project.  Scott Anderson was the chair and one of Tricia’s seminary classmates, Martha Juillerat, was also on the team. 

Tricia’s skills in organization and recordkeeping became very valuable to the project.  She attended board meetings of Presbyterian for Lesbian & Gay Concerns (PLGC) and the More Light Churches Network (MLCN) to coordinate plans and activities.  She began collecting contact information about LGBT-supportive people across the denomination and about General Assembly commissioners—which would likely be supportive and which not. 

However, the actions of the 1996 General Assembly were again negative as it passed Amendment B, which was approved by the presbyteries and introduced an anti-LGBT provision into the Book of Order as G-6.0106b. 

The Unity Through Diversity Project ended in 1996.  Scott Anderson had become moderator of PLGC and invited Tricia to continuing working with them on tracking data on commissioners.  In preparation for the 1997 General Assembly, the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen and Elder Pam Byers from San Francisco prepared a proposal intended to amend the new provision, G-6.0106b, to make it more in character for what it means to be Presbyterian.  Tricia’s commissioner tracking information proved helpful, and the General Assembly approved the proposal as Amendment A.

In order to support the passage of Amendment A in 1997-98, a group of mainstream Presbyterians, led by former GA Moderators Bob Bohl and John Buchanan, founded the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.  Tim Hart-Andersen was on the board, and Pam Byers became executive director. Tricia joined the Board of PLGC and from that position worked with Pam, Tim, and others to pass Amendment A; but the effort was not successful.

This only emboldened Tricia’s resolve to continue working for justice for LGBT persons.  Since she and Mark shared pastoral duties at Noble Road and the congregation was very committed to this cause, Tricia could give much time and energy to these efforts.  Tricia and Noble Road hosted a meeting of leaders of the Presbyterian LGBT-affirming groups over Easter weekend 1999 to hash out a plan to merge organizations in order to have the resources to hire a staff person; PLGC and MLCN became More Light Presbyterians. 

At the 2000 General Assembly, Covenant Network leaders offered Tricia a staff position, national organizer, with the Covenant Network.  This gave Tricia the opportunity to get paid for what she had been volunteering to do over the past several years.  Husband Mark moved on to work for the national Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), first in anti-racism training, then peacemaking, and now is director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. 

The 2000 GA passed a Book of Order amendment intended to prohibit the blessing of any same-sex union, and Tricia’s first major project for the Covenant Network was to organize in the presbyteries to block its approval. That project was successful and the proposed amendment failed to gain majority approval in the presbyteries.  At the same time, the Covenant Network was encouraging overtures to the 2001 GA to amend or delete G-6.0106b, and she worked to maximize the number; there were 35 overtures from presbyteries, representing a half dozen different approaches.

Knowing that this variety could confuse and overwhelm the GA committee if all the overture advocates promoted their own approaches, Tricia encouraged coordination prior to the Assembly.  All were invited, and a subset of the overture advocates met in person in Chicago a few months before the GA, deciding to back one approach together; then they communicated with all the others to gain their support.  All but one of the 35 agreed to combine their time in one presentation to the GA committee, rather than insisting on 35 separate presentation. Tricia negotiated with the committee leadership to allow the single long presentation (the one overture advocate who didn’t agree got her own time) – the first time that was done at a GA.

Despite a technical glitch on the day the committee heard it, the overture advocate was effective, and the committee recommended an amendment.  The OA presentation was such a sensation that the Covenant Network arranged to have it repeated twice more before the plenary vote on the amendment, so that those not present could see it. The GA passed the amendment and sent it to the presbyteries as Amendment 01-A.  At almost every General Assembly since then, Tricia has coordinated an overture advocate group.

Tricia’s next project, encouraging the presbyteries to ratify Amendment 01-A, was not so successful. Although there were high hopes, 9/11 intervened and the atmosphere of fear in the nation contributed to an unwillingness to take what was made to seem like a risky step in opening the PCUSA to the gifts of LGBT persons.

The same GA that passed 01-A also established a diverse group that came to be called the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The GA’s intention was to get the controversial issue of LGBT ordination settled, and then to turn the church’s energy toward figuring out how to live together in diversity; but the existence of the Task Force was used as a talking point against immediate change. Therefore, the Covenant Network believed that the efforts for ordination equality would be more effective if directed towards measures other than an amendment, while the Task Force was working.

Those efforts primarily took the form of trying to remove a pre-G-6.0106b rule, called “definitive guidance,” that also had to be addressed before ordination equality could become a reality – along with developing a strategy to ordain candidates legally despite the presence of G-6.0106b. Several openly LGBT persons were ordained during this time, supported by the Covenant Network and their extremely able attorneys. This was also a period when the attorneys argued and won a variety of cases in church judicial proceedings, mostly in defense of LGBT persons and the councils that ordained them; Tricia helped facilitate those efforts.

When the Theological Task Force reported in 2006, the Covenant Network supported its compromise – grudgingly leaving G-6.0106b, but allowing ordinations to take place where sessions and presbyteries would accept a “departure” from constitutional standards. Because anti-LGBT factions opposed even this accommodation, more church cases followed, and the Covenant Network pushed for an amendment in 2008. The General Assembly passed Amendment 08-B and Tricia worked hard to organize presbyteries to approve it. This effort again fell short, but with a number of formerly opposed presbyteries voting in favor, the momentum was with change. The 2008 GA also voted to remove the old “definitive guidance” statement, a decision that required no subsequent votes by presbyteries.

In 2010, Tricia had a hand in drafting another proposed amendment, relying on observations from objections to previous efforts. This amendment, 10-A, was finally approved by a majority of the presbyteries, ushering in ordination equality to the PCUSA. It is now G-2.0104b in the Book of Order.

Following the ordination struggle, attention turned to marriage equality. Tricia again was involved in drafting overtures and encouraging their passage by numerous presbyteries. In 2014, the General Assembly approved two significant measures: an authoritative interpretation that immediately allowed Presbyterian ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages, and Amendment 14-F to revise the section on marriage in the Book of Order. Tricia helped to organize presbyteries in favor, and a majority of the presbyteries approved 14-F.

In 2015, the Covenant Network remains committed to helping the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) live into its newfound openness to LGBT persons, and Tricia is still committed to the work.

(This profile written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Tricia Dykers Koenig and edited by Koenig.) 

Biography Date: October, 2015

Additional Resources

Tricia recorded an interview during the Prophets and Rock Stars gathering at Stony Point Conference Center, April 2015 (duration 15:48) which can be found on this page: http://tamfs.org/interviews/

Tags

Presbyterian Church (USA) | Covenant Network of Presbyterians | More Light Presbyterians (formerly Presbyterians for LGBT Concerns) | Activist (church change) | Clergy Activist | Ordination/clergy

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