The Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers, 85, died peacefully on Sept. 29, 2017 in Pfäffikon, Switzerland. A service celebrating her life will be held at her beloved home congregation, the Centenary United Methodist Church, 501 S 2nd St Mankato, on Saturday November 11 at 11 am with a meal following. Her ashes will be placed in Glenwood Cemetary, beneath a stone inscribed "Visionary and Prophetic...Subversive to the End." A previous memorial service was held in Claremont California.
Born July 5, 1932, and raised in Mankato, Rev. Powers represented The United Methodist Church as a respected teacher and leader, writer, preacher, spokesperson, campus minister, and missions executive. Her best-known role was staffing the United Methodist General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and therefore holding major leadership roles in the World and National Councils of Churches. Rev. Powers was a global-level advocate for a more progressive, inclusive faith, focused on inclusive language, relevant liturgies, Interfaith and Christian relationships, GLBTQ struggles, and opening leadership opportunities to women, young people, and people of many cultures.
Rev. Powers was the last member of both the Jones and Powers family lineage, the only child in a household that included her mother Florence Jones Powers, her grandmother Lizzie,, and two unmarried aunts , Grace and Edna, all of whom were role models for the hospitality, generosity, and independence that characterized Jeanne Audrey throughout her life. While living in both Minneapolis and New York City, or for her last 15 years in retirement in Claremont, California, she was quick to open her home to visitors and she loved to share her cities with them.
Ms. Powers received her Bachelor of Science degree at Mankato State University in 1954. In 1977 MSU awarded her "Distinguished Alumni Achievement." During her undergraduate studies she traveled as part of a bicycle trip through Europe and the United Kingdom, and spoke throughout her life about how that experience expanded her understanding of global hunger issues. After graduation she was chosen to be a Danforth Graduate Fellow, a prestigious honor that encouraged her to pursue theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also studied theology at The University of St. Andrews in Scotland, as well as in England, Switzerland, and at Boston University School of Theology.
She had an enormous and gracious capacity to befriend and mentor many future church leaders, including those whose ideas and experiences were different from hers. In 1958, she was ordained in Minnesota as a deacon in the Methodist Church. When ordained an elder in 1961, she was among the very first women in the Methodist Church granted full clergy rights.
For a decade, Rev. Powers was the state director of the Minnesota Methodist Student Movement as well as the Wesley Foundation Campus Minister of the University of Minnesota, creating gathering spaces where students lived and worked together as she challenged them to risk unfamiliar territory and broaden their horizons. Starting in 1968, she staffed the Methodist Board of Missions where she gave leadership to an ongoing exciting way for young adults to serve in missions for a shorter formative period of their lives.
Rev. Powers was a key representative to the World Council of Churches. She had a role in three General Assemblies and was a guiding force in the creation of "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry," a document that has prompted reform and convergence among Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians since its approval in 1982 in Lima, Peru. She also guided development of the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998. Women in many denominations and countries were empowered because of her work.
Within this country Rev. Powers worked tirelessly as a vice president of the National Council of Churches chairing its Faith and Order Commission for six years and then chairing its Commission on Regional and Local Ecumenism. She was a member of teams leading to establishing the NCCC's major Middle East Policy and critique of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Rev. Powers was the first woman to be nominated for the office of a bishop in The United Methodist Church, an honor she declined in 1972 and 1976. She was also a volunteer with The United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, organized in 1973. Throughout her life, she was committed to feminist issues. Until her death, she was a driving force in the Reconciling Ministries Movement, and she came out as a lesbian during her sermon at its national gathering in 1995.
Most recently, Rev. Powers worked tirelessly for election of the first openly gay UMC bishop, Bishop Karen Oliveto. "Jeanne Audrey was a fierce she-roe who paved the way for so many of us in the church," said Bishop Oliveto. "She taught me to make room for others, always, as well as the importance of mentoring. I loved laughing and debating with her. It was all done with great love and passion and I always learned so much."
"Jeanne Audrey had a love of people and their stories," said Rev. A. J. Bush, one of many protégés of Rev. Powers who is a United Methodist pastor in Gillette Wyoming. 'She had an uncanny knack for making you into a better person. As a seminary student (graduating from CST in 2015) and new pastor, I developed as both a person and a pastor through my friendship with Jeanne Audrey. She was always pushing me to be better than I was, and at the same time recognizing and appreciating what was going well. She knew what was good from good food to good people to good ministry, it brought her deep joy."
Boston University School of Theology named Jeanne Audrey a "Pioneer Woman" in 1995 with the highly esteemed Anna Howard Shaw Award. She said, "I have chosen to swim against the stream in many areas of controversy because I truly believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, called to share its message of healing, reconciliation, and yes, salvation...I do not choose the Church simply because I want to belong, but because I believe in its transforming Spirit."
Published on November 2, 2017