Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers


Relationship to conference: Retired elder

Date of death: Sept. 29, 2017 at age 85

Arrangements: An out-of-town memorial service will take place at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Decker Building at Pilgrim Place (625 Mayflower Road, Claremont, CA 91711). A local celebration of life will also take place at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at Centenary UMC (501 S. 2nd St., Mankato, MN 56001), with lunch following.

Appointment information: Rev. Powers was ordained as a deacon in 1958 and as an elder in 1961. She served St. Anthony Park UMC in St. Paul and spent more than a decade as the state director of the Minnesota Methodist Student Movement and the Wesley Foundation campus minister at the University of Minnesota; while in that role, she also staffed University UMC and the Minnesota Conference. She later staffed the Methodist Board of Missions personnel office in New York. Rev. Powers retired in 1996 and moved to California in 2002.

Rev. Powers was preceded in death by her mother and two aunts. She is survived by many close friends who were like
extended family.

Full obituary: Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers

The Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers, 85, died peacefully on Sept. 29, 2017 while traveling in Switzerland with friends. Rev. Powers was a pioneer ecumenist who represented The United Methodist Church as a respected teacher, workshop 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 leadership roles in the World and National Councils of Churches. 

Raised in Minnesota, she was a leader and active member of the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church. Always on the leading edge of historical shifts in culture, Rev. Powers was a global-level advocate for a more progressive, inclusive faith, focused on inclusive language, relevant liturgies, LGBTQ struggles, and opening leadership opportunities to women, young people, and people of many cultures.

Rev. Powers received her bachelor of science degree at Mankato State University in 1954. That same year, 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 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, at both its St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. In both cities, she created gathering spaces where students lived and worked together as she challenged them to risk unfamiliar territory and broaden their horizons. While in that role, she also staffed University United Methodist Church and the Minnesota Conference.

Starting in 1968, she staffed the Methodist Board of Missions personnel office in New York, where she gave leadership to “US-2” program, an ongoing exciting way for young adults to serve two years.
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 on January 15, 1982, in Lima, Peru. She gave outstanding leadership to the development of the life-changing Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998. During that decade and the years following, women in many denominations were empowered because of her work.

Within this country Rev. Powers worked tirelessly as a vice president of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC), chairing its Faith and Order Commission for six years and then chairing its Commission on Regional and Local Ecumenism (CORLE).  She was a member of teams leading to the NCCC’s Middle East Policy Statement 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.

Her alma mater, Boston University School of Theology, named her a “Pioneer Woman” in 1995 and bestowed upon her the highly esteemed Anna Howard Shaw Award. She was well-loved by colleagues who relied on her remarkable ability to summarize meetings and large events and to accurately remember information from earlier meetings and events. She is remembered as a talented writer and a leader who inspired and graciously mentored many future church leaders.

In 1996, Rev. Powers was the first recipient of the Jeanne Audrey Powers Award, established by the Minnesota Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Since then, the award has been given annually to a person, congregation, or group that exemplifies the spirit of ecumenism on an individual, local, state, national, or international level. In 2014, Rev. Powers was again recognized at Minnesota's Annual Conference Session and presented with a plaque that read, “In recognition of your many years of visionary leadership and service to the Minnesota Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church, and the people of God everywhere.” In accepting her award, Powers said, “No matter where or what I have been doing, this annual conference has been my home. I am so grateful for it.”

She said, “I have chosen to swim against the stream in many areas of controversy [in the church] 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.” 

In 2002, Powers took up active retirement at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, where her life will be celebrated in a memorial service at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23. She will be buried in Mankato at a later date, and her tombstone will read “Subversive to the end.”

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058