As Remembered by Mark Bowman
In the winter of 1979 I went to New York City (I was at Boston University School of Theology) to do some research in the Union Theological Seminary library. A classmate--who had much more experience in New York City than I did--offered to come with me. While I spent the day in the library, he explored the city and checked out a place he thought we could spend the night. I met up with him when the library closed and we rode the subway to the Village. After a short walk we were standing in front of our overnight accommodations and I exclaimed: "Do you know what this is?" It was Washington Square UMC where the well-known openly gay Paul Abels was pastor.
Paul was away that weekend but his housemate opened the spare bedroom to us to stay overnight. The Washington Square "parsonage" was the top two floors of the building just east of the church--an enormous flat by Manhattan standards. Paul's innate grace and hospitality led him to open his home to countless gay visitors to New York City. I met Paul on a subsequent visit and enjoyed his Continental hospitality and the comfort of his home numerous times over the next few years.
Paul became a dear friend, confidant and mentor as I agonized over how to fulfill my call to ministry as a gay man. Paul encouraged me to do and say whatever needed to get ordained, citing Catholic moral theology indicating that a "lie" could be justified on the path to a higher truth and good. Michael Collins was his foil who counseled me that I likely couldn't live with myself if I lied about who I was.
I was surprised initially that Paul eschewed direct involvement in Affirmation and the political struggles over LGBT concerns in the United Methodist Church. I came to understand that he saw those as a distraction from living a life of integrity and faith--which he embodied. He seemed to enjoy the role of elder stateman and mentor who encouraged me and others to keep our eyes on what God was calling us to do and be. When it became clear after the 1984 General Conference that the homophobic oppression was not abating in the United Methodist Church, Paul exited that institution to seek other ways to be in ministry rather than be hounded and distracted by antigay forces.
While I stayed in touch with Paul and Thom when they moved to Rensselaerville to open the bed & breakfast, I did not get there to visit before his illness and death. I think of Paul fondly whenever I sing or hear the Sydney Carter song, "Lord of the Dance." Paul claimed that as part of the music and worship work he did for the National Council of Churches, he introduced this song from the U.K. to the U.S.
May 14, 2012