Friends and colleagues of the Rev. Loey Powell, a pillar of the United Church of Christ for two decades and a champion of women's rights for twice that, took a moment to say farewell to Powell on her final day in the national offices on Thursday, March 31.
In her 38 years of ministry, Powell, one of the longest serving "out" lesbians in ministry in the history of the denomination, raised awareness of human trafficking, maternal health, and kept advocacy for women in the forefront of the public voice of the UCC.
"I've been very grateful to work with [the UCC Council for Health and Human Services Ministry (CHHSM)] since July on a part-time basis, because it's been helpful to ease me on my way out," Powell said. "I cleaned out some of my files in my office for the first time since 1997. It was great to go back through some of those notes and letters and minutes, remembering all the work we did. But it's all about the great people I met along the way."
Powell arrived at the denomination's national offices in 1997, serving as the last executive director of the Coordinating Center for Women. In 2000, after a restructure of the national setting, she joined the staff of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries with work focused on women's justice and peace. In 2013, Powell became the executive associate to the General Minister and President. In mid-July 2015, Powell completed her tenure in the national setting and began a part-time position with the CHHSM as executive associate to the President and CEO. In her extensive ecumenical work, she was part of delegations that traveled the globe, to the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Middle East.
The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, former executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, met Powell in the 1980's in Indiana at the UCC National Meeting for Women, when Jaramillo was a laywoman and new to the church. "You were pivotal in that amazing event," Jaramillo said. "You were always ready, willing and able… You've been a bold witness and a legendary leader. Now it's time to stop, rest and reflect, and never underestimate the difference you made in so many lives."
In addition to her work with the National Meeting for Women, including helping plan the event in 2000 and 2006, Powell provided staff support for the biennial UCC African American Women in Ministry Conference.
Earlier in her career, Powell was pastor of the United Church in Tallahassee, Fla., for eight years. Before that she served in several positions in the Northern California-Nevada Conference, and was a member of the former Executive Council for 10 years. A graduate of Oberlin College (Ohio) and Pacific School of Religion, Powell was ordained in 1978 with two other women, and though all three were lesbians, none was "out" at the time of their ordination. Powell's parents started the UCC Parents of Gays and Lesbians support network.
Powell shares her life with Brenda Joyner, her spouse and partner for the past 20 years. For a short while, Powell's new ministry will be on the golf course, an activity she and Brenda both enjoy. "I'm not doing church stuff for a few months," she said. "I'll engage in it again, but first I'll focus on our house, golfing, and some fun stuff."
"Loey is one of my favorite people on the planet," admitted the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of UCC Local Church Ministries. "In 2000, when the restructure of the national setting happened and there were hundreds of job listings, I think I applied for about 85 of them. It was Loey who called me to inform me about the job that I did end up getting with her in Justice and Witness, and she said to me, 'We will be close colleagues.' And we were."