The Rev. Sylvia Pennington was an early pioneer in the Christian GLBT
community as an ordained heterosexual woman sharing God’s all-inclusive love
with "whosoevers" all over the world.
Sylvia began life in a Scottish Orthodox Jewish family with two older sisters
who were very much a part of her life and ministry. She married and had a son.
When her husband took his own life, she was left alone with her son. Her sisters
and mom had moved to California.
She began her journey with Jesus through an encounter with the Holy Spirit at
a church in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas on her way to California. This
relationship with Jesus began in the early 1960s and led her to an Assemblies of
God church in Los Angeles. There she heard about a ministry to homosexuals in
San Francisco. Sylvia and her friend Ruth felt they were called to go “change”
the gays to be straight. However, she was torn because she really loved Jesus
but was also falling in love with Harry Pennington. Deciding she had to put
some distance between herself and Harry, Sylvia went with Ruth to San
Francisco to Glad Tidings Church. There they brought a lot of gay/lesbian
people to church.
Harry followed them to San Francisco and Sylvia and Harry were married. After
three months there, they went back home to the Los Angeles area. Later, while on
another trip to San Francisco, Sylvia noticed that none of the "former gays"
were still in the church. She was concerned and decided to go to their homes and
look them up. She listened to peoples' stories and heard that they had tried to
be what the church wanted them to be, but that they hadn’t “changed.” Sylvia
began to see that being gay wasn’t any different than being heterosexual, one
just loved someone of the same gender. She went back home to Los Angeles to
think this over.
Syvia’s friend Ruth wrote the foreward to But Lord, They’re Gay and
said this about Sylvia: “There are a great many that can say they have come
to know God in a deeper way through His love manifest in her.”
A gay man, Bob, that Sylvia had met in San Francisco called and wanted to
stay with her on his trip to Los Angeles. He invited her to the Metropolitan
Community Church (MCC). Covering herself with much prayer, she went to the
church and was surprised to find God’s gay/lesbian/transgender people there
loving God and moved by the Holy Spirit. She asked and questioned: "God, how
could this be?"
Syvia knew what she had witnessed that night and from there began what she
described as her "changing years" that eventually led her to pastor in
MCCs and to minister all over the U.S. and Canada: preaching, counseling,
leading workshops, writing three books, and always sharing God’s all-inclusive
love with everyone.
The Rev. Sylvia Pennington became an ordained heterosexual minister in the
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. After her license was
not renewed, the church she was pastoring withdrew from the Fellowship and she
continued pastoring for a time with Lambda Christian Fellowship in Hawthorne,
California. She continued ministry under the name of Lambda Christian Fellowship
until her untimely death.
Sylvia’s first book, But Lord, They’re Gay is both her story and the
story of five Christian gay/lesbian people telling their stories about growing
up Christian and gay/lesbian. The second book was a response to the growing
biblical attacks against gay people in 1985 and was one of the first books
written about the scriptural passages used to condemn GLBT peoples,
Good News For Modern Gays: A Pro-Gay Biblical Approach. Then in
1989, she published her last book, Ex-Gays: There Are None!, from
interviews she had done with more than a dozen people over the years, learning
that many had tried not to be GLBT by going through change ministries,
marriage, careers, ministry and other ways only to find that they are still
God’s GLBT daughters and sons.
Sylvia received hundreds of letters from people all over the world and
replied to everyone of them. She often called people after receiving a letter
and the other person would begin crying in unbelief that she would reach out
this way and care about them. Sylvia gave herself fully in ministry, counseling
people into the wee hours of the morning and then getting up and starting over
the next day. She was the most gifted, incredible saint I have known.
I was blessed to meet Sylvia in January, 1984, and traveled across the
country ministering with her in 1989, right after we finished her last book.
Sylvia died young at 60 on April 13, 1991, due to complications from congestive
heart failure and diabetes. Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that her books are
no longer in print.
(This biographical statement written by the Rev. Richard L. Dalton, pastor of
MCC of the Sierras in Reno, Nevada, USA.)