SDA Kinship Honors the Memory of Co-founder Ben Pickell, Jr

Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, International (SDA Kinship) honors the memory of Ben Pickell, Jr., who passed away on November 11, 2019, in Palm Desert, California. Ben was one of the founding members of SDA Kinship.

Ben was loved and appreciated beyond measure by all who have been touched by the mission of SDA Kinship, (which he helped shape) providing a safe spiritual and social community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex current and former Seventh-day Adventists, their families, and those who support them.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants like Ben who worked tirelessly to raise awareness of LGBTIQ issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and beyond. The loving memories he created in and through our community from its founding will forever be cherished in our hearts and memorialized in our continued work for better treatment of LGBTIQ people in the church and beyond.”

—Yolanda Elliott, President, SDA Kinship

Along with pictures of Ben, here are more reflections on his contributions to SDA Kinship:

In the mid- to late-1970s, at least three lonely gay Seventh-day Adventist men set out to try to find an Adventist partner by placing an advertisement in The Advocate, a national LGBT weekly newspaper. I was one of those, and my ad said something like, “Gay Adventists, write to me.” Those of us who placed the ads did not know one another, and our motives were personal: we longed for a partner and wanted him to share our Adventist faith. I was taken aback when I received about 40 replies. The problem for me was that, while I lived in New York City, the replies were all from west of the Rockies. But I guess that should not have been a surprise because The Advocate was then based in San Francisco. I am very embarrassed to have to admit that I contacted only three or four of those who wrote to me.

Ben Pickell, from Palm Desert in California, was one of the others who placed an advertisement during those years. His was in the late 1970s. When he also received many replies and had responded to a few of them and had called a meeting, these persons conceived the idea of forming a support group for gay and lesbian Adventists. This was the first step that led to the formation of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, International, Inc.

At that time, the group was limited to Southern California. Ben was the first to hold the title of president of that group. Meetings were mostly in the homes of the group members and involved potluck meals and discussions. One of the key issues discussed (and worried about) was whether, after discovering that they were irretrievably gay, God would accept them. They expanded their numbers by placing notices in The Advocate, and later marching with banners in gay pride parades, declaring that they were gay and lesbian Adventists. Adventists watching shyly on the sidewalks would then come running to join them in the march and to seek information.

In 1979 the group came up with the idea of sponsoring a conference (now known as Kampmeeting) for gay and lesbian Adventists as a step towards taking the new support organization national. Since that idea was suggested by a member in Arizona, the first Kinship Kampmeeting was held in Payson, Arizona, in August 1980. It was inevitable that the first issue that Kampmeetings addressed, with the help of invited Adventist biblical scholars, was whether it was possible to be both LGBTIQ and Christian. After studying the issue at our request (because none of them had previously done so), the scholars brought us much joy and relief by unanimously assuring us of God’s love and acceptance.

As the internet developed, it was not many years before Kinship had an international membership. As time passed, the mission of Kinship would be to support not only gay and lesbian Adventists, but also bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer Adventists, as well as their parents and other family members.

Thank you, Ben Pickell, for having the insight that the many responses to your advertisement suggested that there were many gay and lesbian Adventists longing to meet one another. And thank you for helping to see in this fact an opportunity to found a support group that has proven so important to us.

—Ron Lawson, co-founder of SDA Kinship

All of us in Kinship mourn the passing of Ben Pickell, one of the organization’s founding members and a wonderful, caring friend. Ben played a huge role in the earliest days, reaching out to find other LGBT folk in southern California during the 1970s when many closeted Adventists thought they were the only lesbian/gay Adventists in the world. He had the courage to open his home so those people who responded could meet, get to know each other, and begin the process of healing. He provided a safe, warm environment when there were very few other options that weren’t bars or clubs.

Ben supported Ron Lawson’s efforts to pull together a meeting with church officials in 1980 (what we now view as Kinship’s first Kampmeeting) that led to the creation of the national organization we know today. And he remained a constant supporter of Kinship in the decades that followed. Ben attended many Kampmeetings, particularly those on the west coast.

Kinship owes a great deal to Ben’s vision and willingness to act. But, mostly, we will miss the quiet laugh, the gentle counsel, and the caring that never stopped. We will miss you, Ben.

—Bob Bouchard, former SDA Kinship president (and current treasurer) who served alongside Ben

For more information about SDA Kinship, visit us online at sdakinship.org and on social media at @sdakinship on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Photos of Ben Pickell, Jr. courtesy of SDA Kinship.

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10080
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Rest in peace, Ben. Your legacy will remain in the organization that you helped to create. It is often that only with time that our dreams and aspirations take root and grow. You have helped many LGBTQ+ find friendship and a spiritual home.

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The shunning and shaming of our LGBT offspring has been decidedly unChristian ,and unloving.

Mercifully, providentially, I feel, through a random romance ad for an Adventist gay partner, a group congealed to give each other mutual comfort and support.

This was forty years ago, and younger Adventist gays, still rejected and revulsed by their families, schools and churches, have had enough—- they want nothing to do with the church or Christianity.

Portland Oregon, has an imcredibly dense SDA population with about forty churches in the metropolitan region, and some of the largest congregations in the NAD. There are dozens of LGBT in our area who are prior Adventists.

We know of at least forty LGBT who are prior Adventists but have been unable to gain their participation in even secular activities, like hikes,
jazz concerts or other non church events.The “ SDA “ in the group’s name , “ SDA KINSHIP” has become anathema to them, and they do not wish any further affiliation with other ex SDA LGBT members.

It would be highly unlikely today that an ad, similar to the one placed in the gay magazine, the ADVOCATE would be placed .

Most would want to distance themselves from the group that caused them such rejection and misery.

The Jewish Jehovah programs his ORTHODOX followers to be rejecting of their gay children.

The Christian God programs his more fundamental followers to be rejecting of their gay offspring.

The Islamic Allah programs his followers, through SHARIA LAW to be rejecting of their gay children.

This Jehovah /. God / Allah clearly has a hatred of gay children, and in all his manifestations wishes to do them harm!

So unlike the Hindus, Buddhists Taoists, Shinto who have no deity programmed homophobia. ,

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Thanks, Ben, for the legacy that you helped to create. The SDA Kinship community is a wonderfuly loving family that has grown around the world. We just need to get the SDA church to mirror this and become the loving church that we all long for. Rest in Peace.

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I have had several Gay persons in my friendships in the community.
One was unchurched when I met him. I introduced him to the
Episcopalians. Took him to church on Sundays. Took him to confirmation
studies twice. Stood up with him at Baptism.
I was able to introduce him to SDA Kinship through week-ends at
Rehoboth Beach, NagsHead, N.C, Vermont for several years.
At the Episcopal church I met this Gay Jewish person, handicapped in
a wheel chair. I was able to introduce him to SDA Kinship [he introduced
me to weekly Jewish synagogue participation on Friday nights].
The Nag’sHead facility was handicap friendly. Both he and my other friend
let me take them there for a number of years each September. On Friday
evenings, my Jewish friend would say the Candle Blessing for us.
One year at Nag’s Head, this older couple, women, who had come several
years from West Virginia were allowed to be baptized in the ocean by
another SDA pastor, and to join that church. As their local church would NOT
accept her partner [whom she converted to SDA] and not allow to be baptized.
It was a WONDERFUL event to witness the baptism there in the waves.
Another year, we had another baptism.
What was SO SAD is that they were NOT ALLOWED to become SDA members
of their home church. We had to find one that was even outside their Conference.
Praise be to those Pastors and their congregations who accept ALL of God’s
children.

Praise be to those few who desired fellowship with other SDAs around 1976.
Actually! that was momentous times!
Both Catholic gays, and Episcopalian gays began their Fellowships around the
same time.
GOD was working in different places at the same time for His Gay Children.

GOD is working in the Methodist church one congregation at a time. Many are
becoming ALL are Welcome. ALL are WELCOME to participate ALL the Time.

GOD is working in the Baptist church. There are 4 here in Macon who are
ALL welcoming, and allow for FULL participation. Their Georgia Association
recently celebrated their 25th Anniversary. Their Georgia Association member
churches are ALSO All Welcoming.

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Dear Bob,
Thank you so much for everything.

Cloistered as I was after marrying an SDA ministerial student (and putting him through 2 yrs. of college and then an M.Div), I wasn’t terribly well informed, so I didn’t (and still don’t) know many details about SDA Kinship, but I am so happy it exists.

I was outraged when you were not allowed to call yourselves and your group “Seventh-day Adventist.” I believe the church sued, right? At that time I considered it a low blow to earnest, devout, gifted, intelligent, loving Christians brought up Seventh-day Adventist. I was glad you were advocating for SDAs with “non-Orthodox” orientation.
I felt that the movement was in expert hands, since I knew you from Honors in English and graduated with you with distinction. I recently wrote a poem voiced in the first person based on my gay acquaintances and my feelings protesting how you were disavowed by the Mother church, in essence. (I would love to share it with you, if you would be interested in it.)
Please don’t out me here, not because I want to hide, but so that I may continue to be passionately dispassionate. I have been in my own kind of exile from the church I care about, as a divorced wife of a minister, and though still a member, I have been “driven,” by vibes of rejection, out of attendance for a different reason–I have been thought not a sincere SDA, since I have attended a “Sunday” church where I sang every week in the choir, and must be therefore a candidate for the mark of the beast since I have worshiped with those disobeying God by honoring a false day! That is about what it amounts to, although a lot of it is due to provincialism and lack of education.
Not that I blame those who have not had opportunities; but the attitude has grieved me enough that I no longer feel at home in the local congregation, though I have served in the SDA church as a pastor’s wife and church musician, and have continued an SDA member for over fifty years, despite everything.

Enough about me; I am thrilled that you are still hanging in there with your faith and your fellowship and your perseverance in authenticity.
Blessings on all of you!

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Hi.
I began attending a Sunday PM service at an Episcopal church
in 2005 here in Macon for “Entertainment”.
Then I was allowed to come in the day time during the week to
practice on the small pipe organ.
It was while one day I was practicing that one of the members setting
things up invited me to join one of the “outreach” activities. It was there
I met an unchurched fellow. Became friends. Since he was gay I knew
bringing him to SDA would be a dead end. So since then I have been
taking him to St. Francis. Went through 2 confirmation studies with the
priest with him. Was his sponsor at his baptism.
When I retired in 2009 I joined the choir and sing every Sunday. Although
not an Episcopalian I now have some church responsibilities there and
have keys for full access. I also have other “outreach” activities I
participate in for the past 8 years.
St Francis is my Fun Church. About the only thing available at the SDA is
Sabbath services, Wednesday service. When I first joined they had a
nursing home visitation on Sabbath afternoon that I took my gay friend to.
and he met a number of SDA persons. But that was discontinued a number
of years ago.
Through St. Francis I have friends in 2 Methodist churches and a Baptist
church in town. And I have several “homeless” persons I have met at 2
feeding and social programs that I do things for.
Without St. Francis I would have missed all these opportunities to have
“Fun”.
I have a number more. But won’t list them here.
“Be of good cheer,” as Jesus said. And thank God for the GIFTS you receive
as a member of your Sunday choir. Just look for possibilities to have more
“fun” and enjoyment in your Christian walk with others.

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