The Passing of Reverend Ilene Dunn

One of the things that’s unique about the LGBTQIA+ movement is that we often walk among our saints. Saturday More Light lost a beloved saint of the LGBTQIA+ movement in the Presbyterian Church, USA. Rev. Ilene Dunn served on the More Light Presbyterians board at a critical point in our history as we were following on the heels of the changes in policies for ordination and through our work on marriage equality in the PC(USA).  I will deeply miss Ilene’s unflappable calm and no-nonsense approach to stormy waters. As we were discerning More Light’s next steps she was so grounded in appreciation for MLP’s history, while yet firmly standing in a posture of openness to where we would go. What I also loved about Ilene was her gorgeous spiritual writing. Ilene wrote the poem below for Easter, just a few weeks ago.

No sound
Death’s soundless No
Endless inaudibly weeping despair
Except for the singing

What singing?
         There’s no one else here
         Must be birds I can’t see

         Or the wind invisible in the trees
But that stone rolling eternity’s drumroll
Impossibly crying out laughing singing out

Life’s Yes! banishing Death’s impotent No
Spirit laughing shouting Her joyous Yes!
Spirit singing to you Her own love song

Christ is risen

– by Ilene Dunn on Easter morning.

We are devastated by her loss, but comforted as we imagine the sound of her voice in harmony with the Spirit singing a joyous Yes. Indeed, Ilene. Amen.

Ilene created a beautiful beloved community around her. Below, some of our board members and her colleagues share reflections on her amazing life.

Rev Scott Clark:

I think I first met Ilene when we traveled to San Antonio (and Austin) to appear before the PCUSA Permanent Judicial Commission (the Presbyterian Supreme Court) in the church’s prosecution/persecution of Rev Dr Jane A Spahr and LGBTQIA+ couples she had married. Ilene was part of the Texas contingent that hosted our traveling community of, gosh, maybe 40 family and friends, couples whom Janie had married, and our team of church lawyers — all traveling to stand against the church’s “no” — embodying Jesus’ “yes.” Ilene and others hosted us and stood with us in worship services and in the church court, providing housing and meals. I immediately connected with her— as I’m reading on FB that so many have. Ilene was tough-talking and strong and determined and faithful and funny and overflowing with love and compassion. Years later I was blessed to serve with her on the board of More Light Presbyterians.

But here’s the thing: Ilene was someone I always knew would fight for me and for people like me. Folks sometimes talk about what it means to be an ally — not really a word I use much — so I will say this: Ilene was a friend and a protector — she stood in the breach when the church was rolling over us. And I don’t quite have words to convey how much that means.

And now I’m angry all over again, and I expect Ilene would say, “Good. You should be.” Probably swear. Squeeze my hand, and say let’s go get em. In the name of Jesus.

Ilene was fierce.

I am so grateful right now that I got to see Ilene when I was in Austin in March. And I will always be grateful for the difference that she has made in my life and in the lives of so many.

Rev. Kyle Walker:

I’m reading so many profound posts about Ilene. I had known her one of the shorter amounts of time but we became close and I felt so special. What I now know is that she made every one of us not just feel that way, it was true when you were seen by Ilene. She saw all of us that way.

Now before I wrap this up with flowery, poetic niceness that would make Ilene gag, I want you to know what she wants you to know, that she was an unrepentant bitch.

Before you bow back and think me uncouth, let me interpret. These were her words about herself. She didn’t put up with shit, especially after she was diagnosed with cancer.

You see, Ilene knew life was to be cherished and one of the greatest offenses was a pretense about it that wasted everyone’s time. She expected a genuine embrace of life that valued others and she expected it of everyone from the neighbor next door to the president of the United States. If you were detected to have the same view of life, you could do no wrong…well, almost…

And what better friend can I have had than that? We should all walk this world in such a way and embracing each other like this for our brief time here.

Daniel Williams worked alongside Ilene at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church:

Christ is the resurrection and the life. Ilene Brenner Dunn was a beloved friend, mentor, and colleague for me. She was a poet, a pastor, an activist, a leader, a counselor, and so much more. She had a keen sense for words but today I am without them. May light perpetual shine upon her.

Ilene’s activism extended far beyond her board service and greatly impacted the San Antonio and Texas LGBTQ movements. Out San Antonio wrote an amazing article capturing some of Ilene’s incredible work for justice in Texas.

Ilene is truly one of our movement’s saints and prophets. She will be greatly missed, but we will remember her every time we take a courageous action for the sake of the Gospel.

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