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June Newsletter 2022

Featured June Newsletter 2022

Pride Month: Why an exploration of our history is important

June is Pride month! I want to take a moment to celebrate a piece of United Methodist history prior to the insertion of language regarding sexuality into the 1972 Book of Discipline. In 1964, ministers ordained by The Methodist Church (1939-1968), an immediate 

predecessor of The UMC, in San Francisco, California, recognized their own limitations when it came to understanding the complex nature of human sexuality. In an effort to better understand those who identified as non-heterosexual, they reached out to their local gay community in the Tenderloin District, admitted their ignorance when it came to understanding non-heterosexual persons, and joined members of the Mattachine Society (one of the first gay rights organizations) for a night out at a local gay bar. Out of this experience, the “Council on Religion and the Homosexual” was formed in 1964. 

As an ecumenical collaboration, but one led predominately by Methodist clergy and lay persons, their objective was simply “to promote a continuing dialogue between the religious community and homosexuals.”

The CRH spread beyond San Francisco and into other major metropolitan areas. Through it, clergy used their heterosexual privilege and religious authority to escort LGBTQIA+ persons to clubs, ensure their protection from police, and provide a safe space in which they could socialize and strategize. One of the history-making contributions of the CRH to both Methodist and LGBTQIA+ history is the 1965 New Year’s Day Ball, a little known pre-Stonewall encounter between a local gay community and police. 

In the early 1960s, it was illegal for gay men to dance together publicly; thus, private dances had become the underground norm for socializing. In a show of mutual support, the CRH hosted a New Year’s Day ball in 1965, providing a safe space for LGBTQIA+ persons to dance together in celebration of the new year. Methodist clergy attempted to ensure that those in attendance would be protected from a police raid by meeting beforehand with local police and securing proper permits along with promises to not interfere. Even with these preparations, on the night of the Ball the police lined the entrance to the hall in order to threaten and harass those entering. They made their presence known by frequently walking through the Ball, interrupting the festivities and keeping those in attendance on edge. Before the dance was over, six persons were arrested, including clergy. The next day, Methodist clergy along with clergy from other mainline denominations held a press conference and expressed their outrage and called for an end to police harassment of local gay communities. This is not the last time that clergy stood up for LGBTQIA+ persons, but it just might be one of the first documented. 

As we celebrate Pride this month, let’s intentionally and strategically remember the pride-ful moments of Methodist history where clergy and LGBTQIA+ persons worked together to live into the Wesleyan mandate to do no harm. If you’re interested in a history of the CRH, I highly recommend Heather R. White, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (UNC Press, 2015) as well as an online exhibit from the LGBT Religious Archive, which includes photos of the New Year’s Ball and interviews with those in attendance. You can also find primary source material related to this organization and other LGBTQIA+ Methodist organizations through GCAH’s and Drew University’s Special Collections by using our finding aids.

Dr. Ashley B. Dreff

Recent Highlights of Scholars Supported by
Present and Past GCAH Grants and Awards

Congratulations to Jessica Spillers, newly-announced recipient of the 2021 Women in United Methodist History Writing Award. Jessica’s paper examines how Methodism was appealing to women by aligning head and heart. Jessica is a mother of three who lives in The Woodlands, Texas. She and her family are members of The Woodlands United Methodist Church. Jessica is a second year M.Div student at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Jessica worked as an electrical engineer in technical sales for 16 years before leaving the workforce to pursue Christian ministry and spend more time with her children. Jessica wrote this paper as part of an assignment at Southern Methodist University for Prof. Ted Campbell’s Methodist history course. The assignment was to research any aspect of Methodist history. Jessica decided to research the letters written in the eighteenth century to Charles Wesley by young converts, particularly the ones written by female converts. Jessica was particularly interested in why women decided to join the people called Methodists.

UPDATE: Jenny McGill, the 2020 recipient of the Women in United Methodist History Research Grant has been maintaining a heavy research schedule despite the limitations due to COVID-19. She recently updated GCAH as to the status of her research, supported in part by a GCAH grant. While an adjunct professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, Jenny continues to research migration and identity, mission studies, and Methodist African-American female missionaries in particular. She traveled to the archives at GCAH for research in early 2020 (before Covid-19 restrictions), wrote and secured publication for an article in the International Bulletin of Mission Research (forthcoming in early 2022), and is participating in the Afterlives of Slavery Conference in October 2021 in Washington, DC.
For more information on the types of grants and awards that GCAH offers, please visit our website. We accept applications year-round and it’s never too early to apply!

GCAH Launches New Podcast!

Remember to subscribe to GCAH’s new podcast Un-Tied Methodism, via Spotify. This month, we’ll be discussing the history of Methodism and Welch’s Grape Juice. This will be a history- and trivia-packed episode with a game show-like feel we hope you'll enjoy. We’ll explore why Methodists (nowadays!) serve grape juice instead of wine during Communion. We’ll examine why there seems to be a decided preference for Welch’s brand and ask, “Is serving Mott’s heretical?” 

Methodist History Publication Changes

Changes are coming to Methodist History, the official historical journal of The United Methodist Church published by GCAH. Beginning January 2022, Methodist History will be an imprint of Penn State University Press. GCAH will still own and control the journal’s content, but this new partnership will expand our readership and scholarship to a larger academic circle. To those of you who currently subscribe, I’ll be in touch with changes about your subscriptions in the next few months. To those of you who are interested in subscribing, reach out to us and we’ll let you know how best to subscribe during this transition. In light of this transition, our July 2021 issue will be moved to a double-issue containing text encompassing July/October 2021 and will include the volume index.

Great News!!

GCAH would like to sincerely thank the General Council on Finance and Administration for their generous grant in the amount of $240,000 to support an updated website and  new equipment and hardware. As an archive and as a history-based organization, we are used to dealing with “old things” but this grant will ensure that our technology and our ability to communicate is more in line with 2021. Keep an eye out for our new website which will feature a much smoother user experience (coming 2022!).

More great news? Starting Monday, August 2, 2021, the United Methodist Archives and History Center will once again be open to U.S. researchers by appointment (no international researchers yet)! This plan is contingent on the infection rate in New Jersey and the United States. Prior to planning a research trip, please be in conversation with Frances Lyons of the GCAH, for archival research or Candace Reilly of Drew University,, about any needed documentation or protocols upon arrival. We look forward to seeing you!

Drew University is seeking a new Special Collections Reference Librarian and Curator of the Methodist Collection. From the job description: “Drew University seeks a dynamic and talented professional to join the University Library as Special Collections Reference Librarian and Curator of the Methodist Collection. Under the general direction of the University Librarian, the successful candidate will be responsible for providing reference and research services, formal and informal instruction, public services, and collection development. In addition to curation of the Methodist Collection, one of Drew’s most significant Special Collections, the candidate will participate in general library programs of collection development, instruction, research consultation, and digital projects, and will serve as liaison with the co-located General Commission on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church (GCAH) in shared library and archival services.” For more information or a full copy of the job description, reach out to Ashley Dreff,