The Interviewer: James Fisher
The Interviewee: Rev. Madeline Jervis
The Conversation: June 28, 2023
(This transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.)
James Fisher: (00:00):
Clarendon Presbyterian Church will have served Arlington for a hundred years in 2024. Madeline Jervis was the pastor of the church from 1980 until she retired in 2001. During that time, starting in the eighties, the church became widely known as a religious community that welcomed LGBTQ persons, a legacy that's grown and developed much deeper through today.
The church most recently has announced an effort to begin a years-long process to redevelop its property for new church and childcare space with affordable senior housing above that, that would be open to all, with a design and programs particularly welcoming to LGBTQ seniors.
So how did Clarendon get here?
BEFORE: Clarendon Presbyterian in 1980 -- A 56-year-old Congregation of Aging and Progressive New Deal Democrats Supporting Social Justice
Madeline, let's start with some background about the church. When you arrived in 1980, can you provide some context about the church after having been around for 56 years at that time? What was the nature of the congregation in 1980, and what was their mission?
Madeline Jervis: (01:07):
I was called to be the interim pastor at Clarendon Presbyterian Church and started there the first Sunday in June in 1980. And it was a church that had had a troublesome pastor before that. And they were kind of in disarray and not in very good communion with the (National Capital) Presbytery at that time. They gave me only a very limited six-month contract, halftime, with a 30-day escape clause.
Madeline Jervis: (01:46):
They didn't really know what they were getting (with me) and wanted to be able to get out of it as soon as possible. The church was rather elderly. Most of the congregation was about the same age as my parents were at that time - in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. And what I found out - because there was an election that year and we prayed for the political parties during the time of their conventions - I found out that most of the people in the congregation were Democrats, (going back to those who arrived in the area to support Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal) which was really astonishing to me because I'd hardly met any Presbyterians who were Democrats at that time.
James Fisher: (02:34):
, I think that's probably true.
Madeline Jervis: (02:36):
Yeah. And you know, I talked to one of my parishioners, and when I said that it's important to pray for the politicians, they said yes, and especially the Democratic party is in need of prayer - because they were trying to get them to go do the right thing. And so I discovered myself, like a rabbit in the Briar patch, in a congregation in which I was very much in sync with politically and socially. So the church had a long history, I found out, of supporting the poor people's campaign and supporting other events in the Washington area that were socially conscious. And so I was very pleased to be there.
James Fisher: (03:41):
The size of the congregation, how big was it? And essentially what was, to the extent that a church has a specific mission, whether it's feeding hungry people or whatever, what was the church's mission at that time?
Madeline Jervis: (03:57):
The church supported the missions of the (Presbyterian Church) General Assembly by donating to the General Assembly every year. And they supported local missions like FISH, I think it was called at that time, which provided immediate emergency help to people who found themselves ready to be booted out of their house or something like that, or needed medicines that they didn't have the money for and things like that. And they also supported various other local missions like Meals on Wheels and some of the other missions. Generally they were supporting of missions and, and they were generally socially conscious and, and supportive of supportive of doing things for people who needed help.
Clarendon’s Early Support of Women in Ministry
James Fisher: (05:01):
So you come in as a woman minister at a time when there weren't that many female ministers in the Presbyterian church. How was that a factor in your serving in Clarendon, and did Clarendon address politically in any way the ascendance of women into the ministry?
Madeline Jervis: (05:27):
They were very suspicious of me because I had been recommended by the (National Capital) Presbytery, and that wasn't necessarily because of me, but it was, but because they were suspicious of the Presbytery. A few of the older women (members) who were living at Goodwin house in Alexandria at that time were thrilled to have a girl minister. And they called me up right away and wanted a parish call (visit) so they could look me over and tell me how happy they were that I was there. And that was very encouraging. And other people had never seen a girl minister before, but they thought it would be all right. The first month I was there, three people died. Oh, bang. Like that. And I visited the families and conducted a funeral and generally acted like a competent person. And after that, I could do no wrong.
James Fisher: (06:37):
. Well, now, during the eighties, weren't there other women who were associated with the church, either as members or associated who went into the ministry?
Madeline Jervis: (06:49):
One of the students who had just graduated from college a few years before had had felt a call to the ministry, and she came and talked to me about it and wondered whether she ought to get some more school before she tried to go to seminary, because she had majored in arts Administration. I said, no, that's a good start. That's a very good start. And you should do what you want. If you feel called to the ministry you should do that. That was Bronwen Woodson (Boswell). She had grown up in the church, and it was pretty exciting for us to have a candidate for the ministry from the church.
James Fisher: (07:48):
Now Bronwen, as I recall, today in 2023 is now essentially the head religious leader of the national Presbyterian church body.
Madeline Jervis: (08:01):
She’s the acting stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
James Fisher: (08:13):
So that's a significant position for someone with roots in this church.
Madeline Jervis: (08:16):
She's really big stuff. Big time. Big time.
James Fisher: (08:22):
And then there was another woman, Peg True, who grew up in the church.
Madeline Jervis: (08:26):
Yes. Peg True grew up in the church, and felt called to the ministry when she was in undergraduate school in the fifties, and was discouraged from trying to go to seminary, even though it was barely legal at that time, just about legal. And but she was told that she would never have a good career in the ministry because it would be too hard. And so she made a career in education and then had a renewal of her call toward the end of her career. And so she took an early retirement and went to seminary.
James Fisher: (09:12):
This was in the eighties, was it?
Madeline Jervis: (09:16):
Probably. Then there was Deborah Meek (McEachran). The family was a rather conservative family for the church, and her father wasn't really sure that women should be ministers, but she felt called to the ministry and all. She went to seminary, too. And that was three people, and then later Sue Ezell, who was attending the church fairly regularly at that time, felt called to the ministry and off she went to seminary.
A Further Step for Social Justice: Clarendon Responds to the AIDS Epidemic
James Fisher: (09:57):
So we have a church in the early eighties to mid-eighties that is older, but includes (socially progressive) Democrats who came to the DC area as part of the New Deal. They’re at least somewhat accepting towards the inclusion of women (in ministry), which is sort of early, given how long it took for any sort of large number of women to be ministers in the Presbyterian church.
And that brings us to later in the early eighties: AIDS was first reported as a disease by doctors in 1981, and in 1983 the Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington DC began programs to prevent infection and to support people with AIDS. Now, at some point in that timeframe, and maybe you can point when, the clinic sought to host a support group for people with AIDS in Virginia and ultimately approached Clarendon Presbyterian for a meeting location. When did that happen? And tell me how all that came about.
Madeline Jervis: (11:15):
Well there's always connections with connections and connections. The (DC-based LGBTQ-serving) Whitman Walker Clinic had been looking for a place where people who were leading support groups for people with AIDS could have their own support group meetings. We wouldn't be having people with AIDS in the church (but, rather, support group leaders). And they thought that that would be a very low risk type of thing. But they couldn't get anybody to answer their phones. I mean, they wouldn’t answer their phones and they'd never call back. You know, they just, they were stonewalled all through Northern Virginia, and
James Fisher: (11:54):
They were calling churches…
Madeline Jervis: (11:56):
They were calling churches and got stonewalled through all churches. So one of the people who was working for Whitman Walker at that time was Rusty Lynn, who I had known when he was the youth minister at New York Avenue Church; my children were in his youth group. And so he called me with a personal appeal to an old friend, and he said, “You know, would you ask your Session (leadership board) if we could have this (group meet at Clarendon).?And they don't want any kind of publicity because they don't want to be harassed by crazy people. And would you ask the Session if they would be willing to host this kind of a group?”
James Fisher: (12:42):
And it was a leadership group. It was for persons who led AIDS support groups.
Madeline Jervis: (12:48):
Right. And so I said I would ask. I had no idea what the response would be, you know, because at that time, there were no gay people in the church that I knew about. And so I asked the Session. I explained what I'd been asked, and why I had been asked to do this, and what the response generally had been from churches. And I thought that it was something that we could do because we had the space. One of the things that the church had done, as the Sunday school dwindled, we filled the church with a daycare center and classes, and all kinds of things going on in the church all the time. And this (meeting) would be once a week; it wouldn't have been a big deal.
And people (on the Session) were very reluctant to talk about it, you know. They hemmed and hawed and hemmed and hawed and asked questions because they were not very knowledgeable about the disease of AIDS, and or what it would entail.
James Fisher: (14:19):
And at that time, there was a lot of hysteria. And this would be a time when the Reagan administration was not even acknowledging AIDS. And there was no (broad) understanding of how AIDS was spread or (about spread through) casual contact, if you shook somebody's hand, if you hugged somebody. There was just a lot of fear and ignorance. There wasn't as much knowledge, certainly, as there is today.
Madeline Jervis: (14:50):
Right. And so I was very anxious about it, thinking, you know, are they going to say no and fire me or what. But I was just sitting there waiting and answering the questions, and people were not saying very much about anything. It was like everybody was afraid to say no or yes. Until finally at the end of this thing, as things were kind of getting quieter, and nobody was particularly excited about it or (against it), Alan Taylor, bless his heart (began to speak). He was one of the more conservative people in the church. I thought he worked for the NSA. I mean, I wasn't expecting it from him at all, but he said, “I think we should do it. I think it is our Christian duty to do this.”
James Fisher: (15:53):
Madeline Jervis: (15:55):
Wow. You know, I was just, I was stunned. And after that, there was no more discussion, you know?
James Fisher: (16:04):
And what was the vote?
Madeline Jervis: (16:05):
The vote was unanimous to do that. It was just (that), you know, everybody was afraid to say yes or no, and he made it clear, and nobody could say anything after that - except of course that we should do it. And so we did it, and nothing happened. The sky didn't fall in, there was not an epidemic of AIDS in the church.
James Fisher: (16:38):
Madeline Jervis: (16:39):
James Fisher: (16:39):
Eventually did the, did the makeup of the groups change? Did people with AIDS eventually meet there, or was it always a leadership group?
Madeline Jervis: (16:49):
I think it, there was always a group meeting there, and I don't know if it changed or not, you know, they just had the same, same room the same day same schedule (for years). And, and I don't know if it changed in makeup or in purpose or not, because they, they would come in and have their meeting and leave.
James Fisher: (17:15):
But at the church at large, was there any sort of concern among the congregation that, that in the early to mid-eighties, the church was associated with an AIDS clinic of mostly gay men?
Madeline Jervis: (17:32):
I don't think that occurred to them. You know, we didn't talk about that. People that knew about AIDS, knew it was mostly gay men. But I also knew that there were a lot of women that were getting AIDS.
We won't talk about why (women were getting infected). Right. But (people knew) it was a disease and it was sexually transmitted. It was a germ, and it was not, you know, it was not an act of God. It was a disease. And so I don't think anybody thought that it would be a magnet for gay people because, it was not necessarily that the people who were coming to those meetings were gay, you know?
James Fisher: (18:38):
So, at some point the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry began and eventually you were involved with that. How did that happen? This – that the minister is associated with Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry - takes the church's connection (to the LGBTQ community) to another level.
Madeline Jervis: (19:03):
Well, I was asked to be on the board of the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, and I don't know what the connection was because I didn't know most of those people. It was centered in Alexandria at that point. They were meeting at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in South Alexandria, which was one of the more liberal churches in, or maybe it was the only liberal church in Alexandria. I was asked to serve on that. So I reported that to the Session and said, you know, one of my concerns was that AIDS was a disease (and) the church is called to heal and comfort people who were ill. And for any church to turn their backs on sick people was an outrage. So I said, this is why I would like to serve on this board.
Madeline Jervis: (20:06):
I wanted the Session to know that one evening a month I would be doing that. And there was a woman on the Session at that point who worked for the telephone company. She knew how to do bureaucracy. She was an executive. And so she said, would you like the session to endorse your participation in that? And I said, oh, I would be delighted! And so she made that motion and the Session approved it, so I was officially on that board. And that was really wonderful. I felt very supported, and I felt like, (while) the church (itself) may not want to do anything radical, they would support me to do something. .
James Fisher: (21:51):
So this was in the eighties into the early…
Madeline Jervis: (21:53):
Nineties. Yes, I think so.
The Next Step: Welcoming the LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Church
Madeline Jervis: (23:39):
(In the mid-to-late 1980s) we hosted the Metropolitan Community Church in our building for a couple of meetings and a worship service, because they were doing outreach, and their location was in Fairfax, and they wanted some place that was convenient to the metro.
James Fisher: (24:02):
Now, the Metropolitan Community Church, describe that.
Madeline Jervis: (24:06):
The Metropolitan Community Church, as I understand it, is a denomination specifically formed by and with LGBTQ people. And their ministry was to LGBTQ people directly, and the majority of their members were in that category.
James Fisher: (24:27):
So they came to you and said, could we have some space? Describe that a little more in detail. What did they do at the church? They had a worship service…
Madeline Jervis: (24:38):
They had a worship service. They had a couple of meetings.
James Fisher: (24:43):
So this was essentially the first time actual gay people were holding a worship service and meeting in the church.
Madeline Jervis: (24:53):
James Fisher: (24:54):
How did you run that by the Session of the church?
Madeline Jervis: (24:58):
Well, I, I explained it all to the Session. I said this would be temporary, they had a very limited ask in terms of time and time and space, and that it would be a public service, and that would be fine, you know? I thought that would be fine. And the (Session) didn't tell me that I should go there to make sure everything was all right.
James Fisher: (25:31):
They didn't say you should attend the events that they were holding?
Madeline Jervis: (25:34):
Yes, to make sure that it'd be alright. But I did anyway and it was, it was fine. They have their form of worship, which was interesting because it was very unlike the Presbyterian form. It was interesting to me for that. And the people who were present and the people who were in charge were fine.
The Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance Holds Candidates Forums, and New Faces Fill the Pews
James Fisher: (26:21):
So (at this point), the church is beginning to sort of, more and more, piece by piece, have continued connections with the gay community, with gay people meeting in the church.
James Fisher: (21:58):
(Skipping forward), by the late 1980s the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, which began in the early 1980s had begun to start to hold local politicians accountable for their views on issues that were of concern to LGBTQ people. And they were holding candidates’ forums. At one point someone reached to you to ask if the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance can hold a candidate's form at the church. So how did that come about?
Madeline Jervis: (22:44):
Well, lots of people came to the church and used the church and the sanctuary for all kinds of things, including a bicycle rebuilding thing. That was funny.
Madeline Jervis: (23:20):
Yes. And so the request (to hold a candidates forum) came (from AGLA President Lee Stinnett) to the church. I brought it to the Session.
Madeline Jervis: (27:08):
Session of the church had no problem.
James Fisher: (27:11):
Right, even though it was gay people.
Madeline Jervis: (27:13):
Yes, but the candidates were not the gay people.
James Fisher: (27:19):
The candidates were there. Yes. Yes.
Madeline Jervis: (27:21):
And so it was, it, you know, I don't know who all would come, how much they advertised, you know. I don't, I didn't know if everybody there would be gay or not.
James Fisher: (27:33):
Well, the, in the early years, the Republicans would never come.
Madeline Jervis: (27:41):
James Fisher: (27:43):
Those few in Arlington, yes, and not all Democrats would come.
Madeline Jervis: (27:54):
I didn't know that at that time.
James Fisher: (27:56):
So then, some of the people who attended the candidates’ forum at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance showed up in church on Sunday morning. Two of them were me and (my now husband) Ron. Can you talk about that?
Madeline Jervis: (28:17):
Well, you weren't the first gay people who showed up in church because two people from the Metropolitan Community Church on the Sunday after they had their big shindig there, showed up in church, a man and a woman. And they sat together in church, and everybody was thrilled that, you know, this nice couple came to church. I made no comment. . And so when they approved the AGLA candidates forum, they really had no problem with that. But (the AGLA forum) is when they asked me to attend to make sure that nothing happened.
James Fisher: (29:02):
I'm not sure what would've happened at a candidate's forum, but sure.
Madeline Jervis: (29:08):
And so when I went, I welcomed, welcomed the group there, because that would've been my role, and invited them to come to church on Sunday, because we were trying to grow the church,
James Fisher: (29:19):
You said, we’re open for business Sunday.
Madeline Jervis: (29:20):
Open for business on Sunday mornings. And I don't think it was a very high-powered ask. I was trying to be polite. It was interesting that nobody came afterwards (to the first forum). You and Ron came after the second forum (that fall).
Madeline Jervis: (29:48):
And after the second one, I think is (also) when Michael and Terry came.
James Fisher: (30:05):
And then over the next year or two, you started to see more gay people show up and lesbians.
Madeline Jervis: (30:13):
About that time, I had looked and we were doing six or eight funerals a year. I got very good at doing funerals, and we weren't getting a whole lot of new people coming to church. We had two services at that time, and young people would come to the late service and look around and see all these old people. And they would flee. And a few people came to the early service and stuck. A lot of the new people came to the early service. And so I felt like there weren’t a lot of young people in Arlington at that time that I could see, but it seemed to me that the unchurched people in Arlington would be the gay people. Because there were gay people in Arlington -- that was obvious. And I suggested to the church, the Session, that if we advertised in the Washington Blade, maybe some of those people would come and join the church. You know, that anybody is better than nobody, right? We started advertising in the Blade, because we didn't advertise in the Washington Post because it was so expensive.
James Fisher: (31:51):
And the Washington Blade was the gay newspaper.
Madeline Jervis: (31:53):
And we put in an ad with a bunch of More Light churches and other friendly churches; there were about half a dozen of them.
James Fisher: (32:11):
A shared ad.
Madeline Jervis: (32:12):
A shared ad was very inexpensive. And we kept getting regular visitors as a result of that ad. People would come in and say, we saw your ad in the paper, which is a very neutral statement, but I knew that the only paper we were advertising in was the Blade.
James Fisher: (32:35):
So this, again, was in the late eighties, early nineties. So as more people began to show up - gays and lesbians were there - what was the reaction inside the church? Because, you know, we were still at a time when AIDS was killing people, and there was still a lot of concern about that. What was the reaction to starting to see some of these people in the church?
Madeline Jervis: (33:06):
I think for most people, they were just happy to see younger people, the old ladies. They just thought it was wonderful to have all these nice young people in the church and I think they were otherwise clueless. And there were some people who probably objected, and there was a couple, some people that left because of that, and that I was preaching about anti-gay bigotry a good bit.
James Fisher: (33:42):
A good bit. Now, why did you move to that (topic more often as opposed to) a less than once-a-year kind of subject matter?
Madeline Jervis: (33:49):
Because we were getting more gay people in the church. And it was important to me that, you know, if I was going to be pro-gay, that everybody ought to know about it. Right? You know, it was not gonna be a secret in the church.
James Fisher: (34:07):
You have a lesbian daughter. Was she out at that time?
Madeline Jervis: (34:11):
I don't remember. Gosh. probably, yes.
1991: The First Openly Gay Ordained Elder
James Fisher: (34:29):
So in 1991 the church is always looking for people to serve on the session, which is the church board. Often churches go through the same people over and over because people don't want to do it. In 1991 Ron Bookbinder was nominated as a potential (gay) candidate for the session. Describe when people are elected to the Session in terms of the Presbyterian Church and the Ordainment - what is the significance of being elected to the Session? And what was the church's position at that time on a gay person taking that role?
Madeline Jervis: (35:24):
The church was really slow about this.
James Fisher: (35:31):
The larger Presbyterian Church.
Madeline Jervis: (35:32):
Yes. I was a member of (the LGBTQ affirming group) More Light Presbyterians at that time, and we were working to make the church more welcoming.
And at that time, it was, there is no language in the Book of Order to prevent gay and lesbian people from being elected to the Office of Elder, which is a member of the Session, which is responsible for the governance of the church.
James Fisher: (36:15):
Essentially the board of directors of the church.
Madeline Jervis: (36:16):
The board of directors, but spiritual and temporal governance of the church. Yes. But there were a lot of churches, not just More Light churches that were ordaining gay people in the church because they were qualified and active in the church. Mm-Hmm. And I won't say willingness is all, but willingness to serve was a very important part of it.
And so there were some churches that were filing charges against those churches that ordained gay people, but that wasn't really happening very much in our (regional) Presbytery.
James Fisher: (37:03):
But in the filing of charges, they were charging that it went against the constitution of the church.
Madeline Jervis: (37:22):
Yes. And then the (national) General Assembly put a line in there (within the Book of Order) that said gay people are prohibited.
James Fisher: (37:34):
The general Assembly is the sort of congressional body of the church?
Madeline Jervis: (37:38):
The national body of the Presbyterian Church. And there was a lot of defiance about that. And the More Light churches got a lot of new members because they were ordaining people that they thought were qualified.
James Fisher: (37:59):
In spite of the General Assembly’s rule.
Madeline Jervis: (38:02):
A rule they thought that was a mistake.
James Fisher: (38:06):
So in 1991, Clarendon decided to nominate someone gay. And what happened?
Madeline Jervis: (38:11):
Well, there were a lot of people who were very enthusiastic. SB joined the church so she could vote. She had been a member without being a member for years.
James Fisher: (38:28):
Madeline Jervis: (38:29):
And she decided she wanted to able to vote for Ron. She's the only person I know who did that, because everybody else was already a member. There was a small group of people who resisted that and tried to run somebody else against him so that we, instead of having a slate to be elected, we had to have a vote for the contested seat.
James Fisher: (39:07):
So the seat was contested by another person.
Madeline Jervis: (39:09):
Yeah. By another person who I don't know if he knew what he was being put up for.
James Fisher: (39:17):
Madeline Jervis: (39:18):
I thought that was very damaging for the church to have to do that. But the way the vote turned out, that Ron won handily. I mean it was just a small minority that voted for the other candidate.
James Fisher: (39:35):
Now More Light churches in DC and other locations had done this; had this ever happened in Virginia where a church had done this in Virginia?
Madeline Jervis: (39:45):
Not that I know of.
James Fisher: (39:47):
He was in fact, or likely, the first openly gay elder in Virginia in the Presbyterian church.
Madeline Jervis: (39:54):
It's possible. In Virginia we were the first More Light Church (an official church-wide membership in the organization approved by the congregation) that I know about. And, but at that point, we were not a More Light church.
James Fisher: (40:13):
Yes. So that (More Light church affiliation) came after. And different churches were saying it was a step too far for them. Essentially becoming a More Light church means publicly, saying that you support the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, in the leadership of the church, in the ministry of the church, that you're essentially making essentially a political statement. So that's another step in the nineties that Clarendon had made. How did that come about? Do you recall? And was there any controversy about it?
Madeline Jervis: (41:16):
There were a couple of families that left the church including the family of the person who had been persuaded to run.
James Fisher: (42:20):
With the More Light Presbyterian (designation), you see over the eighties and nineties, the sort of building and building and building of support visibility of, of LGBTQ people within the church, support for their issues, concerns, support for inclusion. Did all of this sort of relate to the history of the church as having been a liberal institution and focused on people who are marginalized? Did this sort of grow from that?
Madeline Jervis: (42:59):
I think so, because when I went there, you know, I discovered that they were all these old people. You would expect them to be grumpy and, and backward. But they were all New Deal Democrats who had not lost their ideals. They were a lot like my parents, who were New Deal Democrats and always were liberal. I was used to being around older people who were liberal because my parents were, and their friends. And so it was just wonderful to join Clarendon Presbyterian Church. Because the liberal ideas were not an anathema. And I never had to worry about getting fired because I was too liberal.
LGBTQ People Bring New Energy and Skills to the Church
James Fisher: (43:54):
During the nineties, the Arlington Gay Lesbian Alliance continued its connection with the church, as we said, gay persons were in leadership, (the church was) politically associated with the More Light Presbyterian issue. More people who were gay or lesbian ultimately became elders of the church into the nineties. How did that impact the growth of the congregation, the nature of the congregation, the mission of the congregation in the nineties? What, what sort of changed and evolved as a result of the presence of LGBTQ people?
Madeline Jervis: (44:35):
Well, there was a lot more energy in the leadership of the church in the Session and in supporting the various missions of the church, which were still all the local missions and, and supporting the Deacons Fund that supported homeless people who came by, and some of the other missions of the church continued to be supported by all of those. It didn't become a gay church with only gay concerns. But the idea that everybody - everybody - was a child of God became more prominent, I think. And so that all kinds of social issues were being addressed by the church and by the missions of the church.
James Fisher: (45:27):
And did that also attract new members?
Madeline Jervis: (45:28):
Oh, yes. At the time I left (for retirement), I thought that we had a really good bunch of people in this church, and especially the lesbian couple who lived up in North Arlington.
James Fisher: (45:44):
Dominique and her partner, Gay.
Madeline Jervis: (45:45):
They were really gung ho, and they brought all their skills. My pet peeve about churches (is that) people come to church and they may be very skilled in all kinds of things in their work, but when they come to church, they leave all that behind. It was very difficult for people to come to meetings and follow through on what they said they were going to do. And like anything, they would've been fired if they had been at work, being paid for this. And those newer people, when they volunteered to do something, they did it and followed through and put in leadership so that I didn't have to do any lifting. I could just say, oh, good job. You know?
James Fisher: (46:46):
Exactly. Wonderful. As a leader should.
Madeline Jervis: (46:49):
Right. It was really wonderful. So at the time that I was leaving, which was 2001, things were cooking along. I was feeling really hopeful about the church. But I thought, I was 65, I wanted to retire. Yes. And I was tired. It was a lot of work.
THE FUTURE: Madeline Jervis Looks Back – and Forward
James Fisher: (47:16):
You remained Pastor Emerita of the church. You still have connections and certainly follow along the activities of the church from afar. What are your thoughts on what's happened since you left in terms of how the church built on its, its support while you were there in the eighties and nineties for LGBTQ people, because that has grown and evolved. What are your thoughts on that, based on just sort of sitting up in the bleachers, looking down?
Madeline Jervis: (47:58):
I was pleased that the church continued to be welcoming to gay lesbian people because there weren't that many churches that were explicitly doing that. The church I started attending after I retired, which was First Presbyterian Church, was a member of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which was also an advocacy group for (LGBTQ) things, but they were not as rude about it as the More Light Presbyterians.
James Fisher: (48:34):
Madeline Jervis: (48:37):
And it was a secret over there at that church because they didn't have it on any (public facing documents). When they got a new minister, they wrote a very wonderful church information form that said that they were a More Light church, said that they had very progressive ideas and things like that and I said to them, you know, if you're advertising for a new minister and telling them that you're a Covenant Network church and Progressive, then it should be in the (Sunday) bulletin. Right? Every Sunday. And on the website. And so they put it in this (tiny) size type.
James Fisher: (49:18):
In contrast, Clarendon continued with a very visible approach to that. So, thinking about today, you know you can drive around Northern Virginia and see so many churches -- a Methodist church saying we are a welcoming congregation. You see a lot of rainbow flags around various churches, not the Catholic church, but you do see a lot of rainbow flags. Back in the mid 1980s that seemed very unlikely that it would become this way. How do you feel about the fact that Clarendon was so way out in front on this issue and how that developed?
Madeline Jervis: (50:14):
Well, I was very pleased to be doing that. My friend Jean Mackenzie, who started at Westminster in at Westminster Church in southwest DC, they were a More Light church early on and they were openly More Light. They were multiracial as well. And they were just right out there. They were the only church doing that. And they got in trouble with somebody who filed charges against them because they allowed a gay marriage in their church. So it was usually the smaller churches, struggling churches, that reached out to the gay community. With the same kind of idea: anybody is better than nobody. And these people are waiting to hear about Jesus.
They have come from churches where they had been abused and kicked out, and many of them had been kicked out of their families. I mean, it's just atrocious the stories you hear. And what is the church if it isn't a family, if it isn't a place where, as the old (Robert Frost) poem said, if you have to go there, they have to take you in. Well, that's not what the church has been. (Many have the attitude that) if you go there, you better shape up or they will not take you in. So it seemed to me that that the bottom line of what the church ought to be doing is to take in the people that needed to be taken in, who wanted to be taken in. Hopefully they wanted to be taken in .
James Fisher: (52:32):
Well, so as, as we conclude our discussion, thinking back at your two decades at Clarendon what do you look back on most proudly about your own service as pastor during that time and about the church's accomplishments during that time? What are you most proud of?
Madeline Jervis: (52:53):
Well, I'm really proud that the church didn't succumb to its worst prejudices and didn't allow the people that had a lot of power to decide what the church was going to do; that the church tolerated my leadership in this. And there were plenty of times when I was worried about my continued employment, you know, and there were people that really didn't approve of what I was doing and let me know. And so a lot of the time I was scared, you know, and wondering whether I was going to ruin my career. Such as it was. But I'm proud of myself for hanging in there, even when I was scared. And I'm also proud of the church that managed to tolerate that and follow and develop in the direction that they did develop. So by the end, I was very happy to be the pastor of that church. And because it was a small church and fairly well organized after I'd been there for a while, I also had the opportunity to serve the Presbytery at the same time. And I was able to be the moderator of the (regional) Presbytery, which was I think in ninety one or ninety six, early on.
James Fisher: (54:59):
So 40 years after Rusty Lynn approached you about having people who knew people with AIDS come and have a meeting once a week in the church, the church is putting forth a proposal to essentially demolish its entire property, rebuild with appropriate size space for the church, with continuation of childcare that exists on the church property and affordable housing for open to all persons, but with a focus on being particularly welcoming to LGBTQ seniors who have seriously unmet needs in terms of affordable housing. What do you think about that arc, of starting back with Rusty Lynn's call to potentially a housing development supportive of LGBTQ people?
Madeline Jervis: (56:18):
I think it's pretty wonderful. You have to be careful not to violate fair housing laws (and be sure to include everyone), but I think that would be a wonderful thing to do.
James Fisher: (58:36):
Well thank you for doing this oral history. Thank you for all your service to the LGBTQ community and what a great conversation.
Madeline Jervis: (58:53):
Yes. Thank you.
In the 2000s, under the leadership of Rev. David Ensign, from 2003 through 2019, and Rev. Alice Rose Tewell since 2020, Clarendon Presbyterian Church has continued its strong mission outreach in the areas of food insecurity, housing, the provision of affordable childcare and social justice for minorities, including a continued strong commitment to equality and safety for LGBTQ persons.
Among the church’s work supporting LGBTQ persons in the 2000s:
Support for marriage equality.
Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in support of same sex marriage, Rev. Ensign announced publicly that he would no longer conduct legal marriages in the church until gays and lesbians had the right to marry. Clarendon Presbyterian wedding services were provided in a religious nature only, requiring opposite-sex couples to legalize their union by other means. Rev. Ensign and church members regularly participated in public actions in support of same-sex marriage, including annual actions at the Arlington County Courthouse on Valentines Day.
In November 2005, Clarendon Presbyterian Church was given the James B. Hunter Human Rights Award for its commitment to the fight for equality, particularly for LGBTQ persons.
The Session and members of the church regularly petitioned the regional and national bodies of the Presbyterian Church USA through efforts to provide equal treatment and expanded opportunities to LGBTQ persons in terms of marriage, ordination and other issues related to service within the church.
The church Session regularly has continued to include ordained LGBTQ persons.
Starting in the 2010s, the church has regularly offered summer space to LGBTQ youth groups, including the GenOut Chorus, to provide a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ youth.
Also, in the 2010s, the church began providing space for the LGBTQ Latino community of Northern Virginia to meet, spearheaded by the organization IMPACTO LGBT, which seeks to carry out advocacy actions that generate changes and that contribute to improving the quality of life of the community.
Clarendon has partnered with and supported IMPACTO LGBT, leading to their permanent space in the church, and assistance in the group’s efforts to become a new worshipping community in the PCUSA.
The latest advance in the church’s support of LGBTQ persons is its move to redevelop its property in the coming years with non-profit partner Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. The intent is to create affordable senior housing that would be open to all with services that would support the welcoming of LGBTQ persons as residents.