Affirmation Feature: March 2003
Affirmation is pleased to announce the election of Peggy R. Gaylord (right) as our female co-spokesperson at the National Council meeting in Austin, TX in January 2003. We welcomed her back to the Affirmation Council in 2001. She is the first openly bisexual member to assume this position. Peggy has been serving on the Program Committee and the Nominations/Leadership Development Committee where she has particularly demonstrated her commitment to diversity and inclusivity. "I do too recruit!"
As co-spokesperson, Peggy has moved into meeting the challenges of our current issues and situation. She is helping to drive development of our legislative proposals for General Conference 2004; offering ideas about other Affirmation items to sell as fundraisers and image builders; suggesting web page improvements; drafting press releases; developing our position on the possible war in Iraq; and leading our effort to include more transgender perspectives to our work among many initiatives. Peggy always has a lot of ideas and fresh perspectives on the issues Affirmation faces, and has a sense of history as a reference point. We are glad to have her in place as we work with our coalition in preparation for General Conference, April 27-May 7, 2004 in Pittsburgh.
Peggy lives in Binghamton, NY with her two cat children. "I think kids were sometimes easier!"
She has been a life-long Methodist, describing herself as one of those "Cheerios kids who learned to eat cereal dry in the crib in her parents' Sunday School class," which she never outgrew (that refers to the dry cereal, not the crib).
By the time Peggy was nine or ten, she felt a call to the ordained ministry, a child's knowingness that she should/would be a pastor, at a time when she saw no women pastors. She had watched the wife of one of her pastors decline and die of cancer, at a time when rarely the "C" word was spoken aloud; it was unthinkable that a pastor's wife would be afflicted by it.
On Palm Sunday 1965, eleven-and-a half-year-old Peggy was confirmed with the others in her grade. "I grew up with a fair amount of fire and brimstone, but I always knew deep inside that God was not a condemning God." For her, the Methodist church was home: "it made me who I am today--it laid that groundwork." Jesus' ministry and John Wesley's was always an example and reminder to reach out to others in need.
"The year I was 18 I started to realize that I was attracted to both men and women, so I eventually decided that I must be bisexual. This wasn't a new thing when I looked back on childhood and high school crushes; I was always attracted to English teachers regardless of their gender. However, I thought of being bisexual as an intellectual knowledge that I had of myself. Since I had never known anyone gay, I didn't expect it ever to be a particular possibility for me, and certainly not a possibility to which I would aspire or choose. I just thought I knew more about my own capacity than most."
In 1973 Peggy returned to Cornell University from a leave of absence to major in human development and family studies, with three concentrations: adolescent counseling; human sexuality and interpersonal relationships; and religious studies. In college she started exploring the idea of attending seminary rather than an advanced psychology degree. For her, psychology seemed to overlook the spiritual aspect of a person, one which she felt was integral to a full understanding of anyone and his/her situation.
Although she visited Boston where a counseling emphasis was available in Religion, Culture and Personality Sciences, and explored a similar program in the San Francisco area on paper, by General Conference 1976 it seemed unrealistic to pursue ordination; and unless one pursued the ordinand track, funding was virtually non-existent.
"I didn't sense that my sexuality was an issue with God; but I didn't think I was ready for this 'new' institutionalized church. Even though I had not yet been involved with someone of the same gender, and might never be, it was a matter of knowing who I was and needing to preserve my sense of integrity. What could I do alone anyway? I didn't know anyone else gay and Christian. I was very isolated in that way. What I didn't realize then is that the 'call' never goes away. It took me many years before I was able to reconcile that calling with an ordained ministry. Not that I wasn't constantly involved in many ministries. But it wasn't quite the same."
In 1986, just before completing her MS in Computer Science and Systems Science, one of her Conference staff handed her a Kirkridge brochure (a nationally known leading edge retreat center in Bangor, PA) during a planning meeting of Camps, Conferences and Retreat Ministries Committee; the two of them were working on developing a Retreat for the Unemployed, modeled after the one at Kirkridge. The schedule of retreats re-opened a world of explicit spirituality to her, a wide range of workshops on social justice issues and sexuality, quite contrary to her daily life with a closeted long-term partner and partner's daughter just starting into puberty.
Peggy attended a week-long retreat at Kirkridge, "Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Justice Church." Resource leaders included Jim Nelson, John McNeill and Bev Harrison who also enticed Carter Heyward to come. Later she met Virginia Mollenkott, Mary Hunt, and many others. Kirkridge was a place where marginalized people came to gather, even those who seemed outwardly successful in the church but who longed for greater justice and longed to be more fully who they were, UMC DS's included. It became clear to Peggy during that first retreat that she was being called to be more openly activist within the church around gay and lesbian issues and AIDS education.
In 1988, she attended another week-long workshop at Kirkridge, "Healing of the Body, Mind, Soul, and Society," coordinated by Morton and Barbara Kelsey. This time she was challenged by her skepticism of "real" healing; as she put it, "I wouldn't have been caught dead going to a healing service; that just was beyond my belief system and comfort level."
During the culminating beautifully orchestrated service of healing, and after seeing others healed in physical ways, she finally rose from her chair to go to one of the healing stations where Barbara Kelsey and Joan Forsberg prayed with her about two concerns--one physical and one mental. She left with a deep peace and calm, comforted in the opening of possibilities. Her troublesome recurrent suicidal thoughts abated almost immediately and were non-existent for many months; the physical improved over the next few months. Morton Kelsey had described seeing healers perform healing after healing--he had personally known Olga Worrall and her husband, and he referred to Agnes Sanford's many writings. Peggy started to enter into this unknown world through reading.
She learned of Affirmation in 1987, just before it sponsored the first convocation of the Reconciling Congregation Program in Chicago. She has since attended every convocation, being one of three remaining who can still claim that distinction. When she realized that Affirmation had existed since 1975, she was angry.
"I couldn't believe that I had been so active in the Annual Conference and a wide variety of venues in the church and that I hadn't heard of it. I later found out that that was primarily because the United Methodist Reporter would not allow any advertising. Although I was gay-identified, I wasn't in an area where The Advocate was easily available (sold only in "adult book stores"), and I didn't subscribe to any of the few gay papers available. They seemed fairly focused on homosexuality at that time, not much on the other issues in life--so there wasn't much for me to bother with in an otherwise busy life. And there was no email back then, to forward on to everyone in your address book; word of mouth was a little slower in outlying areas."
Without much time passing by, she became a northeast regional organizer for Affirmation and served on an ad hoc fund development committee. She was intent on "passing on the word." In December 1990 she co-founded the Wyoming Conference chapter of Affirmation, which met in Binghamton, NY. Its core offering was a weekly ecumenical worship service for almost 12 years, which sadly ceased meeting last fall. A week after the first meeting, she lost her job in the computer industry. For the next couple of years, she explored what it was that she felt led to do.
In the early nineties, she served on the Affirmation Council for four years, and also represented Affirmation on the Reconciling Congregation Program board in the early years of her five years of service as the two organizations were separating and RCP was incorporating independently (RCP recently became the Reconciling Ministries Network). She was elected to start on the Council in 1991; one of the first council discussions, in reviewing the by-laws, was whether to add bisexual and transgender to our name or not.
"Bisexual" was added, and some members and chapters had difficulty accepting this change. In 1993, she and Mary Jo Osterman coordinated a National Affirmation spring weekend meeting on the topic of Bisexuality. Ben Roe and Randy Miller assisted. It was an historical event in that both editors of Bi Any Other Name appeared together for the first time since its publishing (they lived on opposite coasts, but both were attending the National March on Washington).
She has written for the award-winning Open Hands several times on sexuality and spirituality. She was the only author in the first quarterly issue of Open Hands focused on Bisexuality to use her own name rather than a pseudonym. During her five years on the Reconciling Congregation Board, she produced the first Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality and the Church and developed the Study Guide for the video Casting Out Fear.
In 1992 Peggy started to "receive information" that her life purpose was to be a healer. At first she thought of it metaphorically. But it became clearer and clearer that she would be involved in "laying on of hands" in some fashion. "I was bewildered; don't you have to be born that way? Now I believe that we're all born that way. Somehow I failed to perceive what Jesus was doing with his miraculous healings--and somehow I hadn't heard what he had said: 'Go and teach and preach and heal, and you will do greater things than I.'" As she was finishing up her board terms with Affirmation and RCP, she started to attend The School of Spiritual Healing and Prophecy in Lily Dale, NY. In 1994 she was ordained an Associate Minister by Fellowships of the Spirit; and a year later she was ordained to full standing in the denomination as a Minister of Spiritual Healing and Prophecy. She established her private practice of healing in 1994, "Another Miracle Today!"
Is there a conflict in theologies? "I'm used to juggling a lot of simultaneous realities. I'll always be a Methodist. I know the language, I know the system, I know the people; they're my family--and God has called me to be in ministry to them and the United Methodist Church. I use my spiritualism to help sustain me through the potholes on the road to greater wholeness for myself and the UMC."
She maintains her ties with First United Methodist Church Oneonta. She transferred her membership there even though it was two hours from where she lived, when there was pressure on the Reconciling Congregation board that all members should be a member of a Reconciling Congregation. "I had been working for several years to develop awareness of the issues in our conference and to promote the idea of reconciling ministries. I had led the move to become a Reconciling Conference, which we were for two years before it was rescinded. I had been involved in resourcing three churches to become welcoming, but my own had not. It's interesting for me now to see how the RCP evolved toward individual members and any entity that would name itself 'Reconciling.'"
Are LGBT issues what she has focused on the most? While she did receive an MFSA Peace with Justice Award highlighting her work around LGBT issues, she's been involved in many other areas of social justice over the years including the nuclear freeze movement, women's and children's issues, prison reform and the prison-industrial complex, mental health and suicide, poverty, racism, sexism; and the interrelationships and overlap of these with each other and intersecting with LGBT issues. "These are often intertwined." She's also been very active at both the local and conference level for over 30 years. She's been elected as an Alternate Delegate to General Conference twice, while being very open where she stands on all of these issues.
What are some of her non-work memories? "Early on, when the guys found out that I was bisexual, after a long day's work they'd ask me whether I was going out with the girls or the women. And then I always like laying claim to having slept in Judy Fjell's bed (a lesbian feminist songwriter who has done a number of programs for us--by the way, she wasn't home); and laying claim to having slept with Randy Miller when he was the spokesperson (we each had our own queen-sized bed in a hotel room--much larger than a tent--where we were observing the General Conference Study Committee on Homosexuality in St. Louis. Randy arrived in the middle of the night and the front desk called to ask whether I was expecting him, even though the reservation had been made in both our names. You know, I never thought of it until this moment, but 'Randy' could be a woman's name. Anyway, I wanted to ask if he were tall, dark, and handsome and affirm that it was he, but I decided not to joke around and just said 'yes, I was expecting him.' I thought it would have been the perfect line though)."
And for relaxation, "I can't compete with Rusty's bungy jumping record yet, but I love to travel when I get the chance--so invite me! I've swum with dolphins, walked across hot coals a couple of times, climbed to the top of a 50-foot pole and jumped off; love to fly especially in open cockpit planes; parasailing and snorkeling when I get a chance--I just don't get enough chances. My favorite spots are Sedona, AZ and warm beaches like Key West, Sanibel Island and Pensacola. But really, my volunteer work and healing/teaching work are also fun and bring me great satisfaction. And then there's never enough time to sit down with a good book--there's always something I want to read."
Two of her guiding Bible verses today are "...What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8), and "Where there is no vision, people perish." (Proverbs 29:18)
Peggy is currently the part-time Director of Tioga Connections, a mental health advocacy agency. She continues her private practice in healing which also includes teaching community education courses and, as a Wellness Consultant with Nikken, Inc., marketing leading-edge health and wellness products. More people are traveling great distances to receive her healing services, and she's often invited to other places around the US to present and/or heal. "You know what they say about prophets!"
We wish Peggy well and pledge to support her as she helps lead Affirmation into our inclusive vision and future.
Photo Above: Peggy R. Gaylord, co-spokesperson of Affirmation. Credit: Delta Stanton, January 2003.