2023 Award Recipients

2023 Award Recipients

Join us in celebrating our 2023 award recipients: Dan Adolphson, Laurie Pound-Feille, Heather Tolleson, Nathan Russell, Nadia Tavera, and Brandon Johnson.

Traditionally presented at a General Assembly banquet, the Council may at any time grant recognitions to persons and organizations that have made significant contribu­tions to the Alliance and its mission. During the 2023 banquet dinner, we introduced the significance of each award and shared the stories of our 2023 recipients.

“We are Called” Award: The Carol Blakley Recognition

This recognition is named for the late Carol Blakley of Caldwell, Idaho, a Disciple mother of a gay son, who broke silence at the 1977 Kansas City General Assembly, and called on all Disciples to name the reality that LGBTQ+ and affirming persons are our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents, congregants, pastors and staff. Mrs. Blakley was the first recipient of this Recognition, which was given at the Alliance After Session during the 1989 Indianapolis General Assembly. This recognition shall be given to a member of AllianceQ who has contributed significantly to the call on Disciples to name the reality which Mrs. Blakley dared to name, to the other purposes of the Alliance and to the growth and development of the Alliance within the general manifestation of the church. This recognition honors the embodiment of these guiding values: accountability + transparency.

The 2023 “We are Called Award” goes to Dan Adolphson and Laurie Pound-Feille. Dan Adolphson and Laurie Pound-Feille are Co Facilitators of Disciples Public Presence, truly calling the Disciples to action. Dan and Laurie serve together at First Christian Church in Minneapolis, MN. Laurie is a Co Facilitator of Disciples Justice Ministries. Dan is a former Moderator for the Alliance. In the Upper Midwest Region and beyond, they are using their voices and equipping others to show up for the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. They embody Carol Blakely’s spirit.

Dan Adolphson displays his award at the banquet dinner.

“We are a Movement” Award: The Rev. O.D. Johnson Recognition

This recognition is named for the late Rev. O. D. Johnson of Kansas City, Missouri, a retired Disciple clergyperson who came out of the closet upon retirement and founded GLAD-Kansas City in 1987, as the first Alliance Chapter. Rev. Johnson was the first recipient of this recognition which was given during the 1990 Kansas City Event. This recognition shall be given to individuals or groups who contribute significantly to the development and growth of an Alliance team or to the visible presence of the Alliance within the regional manifestation of the church. This recognition honors the embodiment of these guiding values: connectedness + relationship.

The 2023 “We are a Movement” Award goes to Heather Tolleson. Heather has done an amazing job leading her church FCC Katy to be a witness for LGBTQIA+ inclusion. They have started the Transparent Closet to provide clothes and community for trans individuals in Katy, they regularly host Drag Bingo and they are a welcoming and healing place for many in a state where that is hard to find. Heather is also actively leading her congregation in advocacy work so that all be safe, loved and celebrated in Texas.

FCC Katy celebrated Heather Tolleson’s recognition through their social media with this photo.

“Journey” Award: The Peevey/Harris Recognition

This recognition is named for Rev. Debra Peevey of Surprise, Arizona, and Rev. Allen Harris, Regional Pastor & President at the Christian Church in Ohio. Rev. Peevey, then pastor of Findlay Street Christian Church in Seattle, came out as a lesbian to her congregation and subsequently led them through the process of be­coming Open + Affirming in 1988. She was the first recipient of this recognition, which was given at the 1991 Tulsa Event prior to the Tulsa General Assembly. Rev. Harris, then co-pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York, was called to that congregation and ordained as an openly gay clergyperson and subsequently helped lead them to becoming Open + Affirming in 1992. Rev. Harris was the second recipient of this recognition, which was given at the 1992 Fort Worth Event. Rev. Peevey and Rev. Harris were original members of the former Coor­dinating Committee of the Alliance. This recognition shall be given to individuals and groups who contribute sig­nificantly to leading their congregations or ministries to become Open + Affirming or who contribute significantly to the visible presence of the Alliance within the congregational manifestation of the church. This recognition honors the embodiment of these guiding values: love + grace.

The 2023 “Journey” Award goes to Nathan Russell. From the individual who nominated Nathan: “I am an Ohio-based transgender, non-binary church and concert organist in my late 20s. Going into a new church as a transgender organist is terrifying. While I have been thankful to have served several affirming churches, one never knows what will happen at a new place. Rev. Russell took the time to ask about my pronouns before my first service and greeted me with words of affirmation and welcome. He was also present at the Cleveland Pride Parade.I found something I had never seen before. A small, but vibrant and mighty congregation, in Elyria, Ohio (where one socially/geographically does not expect to find many affirming spaces), filled with fierce allies— where our community was (to quote Rev. Russell) “not just viewed, but seen.”

At Washington Ave. Christian Church, my non-binary siblings are talked about, affirmed, and shared as part of the biblical story. I met a room of allies that clearly put in the time for learning and discussion in recent years, and emphasized that there was no room for “middle ground” for the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people.

Rev. Russell’s ministry extends beyond the walls of his congregation. He acts not just for our community, but other marginalized communities as well. People like Rev. Russell are changing the world. Though not at the biggest church, with the biggest titles, it’s the active change within our communities that will make us all better.

“Welcome + Witness” Award: The Rev. Michael Schloff Recognition

This recognition is named for the late Rev. Michael Schloff of Boston, Massachusetts, for the purpose of recognizing him posthumously. Rev. Schloff, an openly gay Disciples clergyperson, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in the fall of 1988. At the time of his death, he was an original member of the former Alliance Coordinating Committee. He is credited with furthering the formation of the Alliance through his efforts during the 1985 Des Moines General Assembly. Michael was best known in the Boston area as a powerful advocate for the homeless and disenfranchised and for his work on the staff of the gay and lesbian counseling center. This recognition shall be given to individuals or groups who demonstrate the powerful Christian commitment to LGBTQ+ and affirming Christians and to all persons within and beyond the church. This recognition honors the embodiment of these guiding values: belonging + affirmation.

The 2023 Welcome + Witness Award goes to Nadia Tavera. Nadia works diligently at many intersectionalities within diverse communities. Nadia’s dedication to accessible affirming faith resources and ministry – both to LGBTQ+ people as well as allies and family members – is truly inspiring. Within a denomination and country that can be very euro-centric and is founded on white supremacist ideals (that many are working diligently to deconstruct and tranform), Nadia shines as a beacon of hope of what is possible when equity reigns and each person is acknowledged and uplifted for the dignity and worth that they inherently have.

“Light Bearer + Table Turner” Award: Ally, Accomplice, Activist Recognition

This recognition honors individuals who work to support LGBTQ+ people and issues in and beyond the institutional church, shining light on discrimination, sparking hope, turning tables of injustice, and igniting change. We are claiming God’s call through Jesus for all to have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10) This recognition shall be given to an individual or individuals who are actively transforming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and building a more just and inclusive world. This recognition honors the embodiment of these guiding values: justice + liberation.

The 2023 Light Bearer + Table Turner Award goes to Brandon Johnson. Brandon Johnson has a light that shines so bright that it reaches outside of the church and floods the community with love and acceptance. He has a passion for any person who has been shunned, rejected or marginalized. Last year he decided that we should have a Pride Sunday at the church. A service that outwardly showed the world that an open and affirming congregation were more than just words on a marquee outside of our church. This has become an annual tradition at our church as we celebrate our second Pride Sunday on June 25.  Brandon isn’t afraid to walk around town with his Burbank Pride tshirt on.  He isn’t afraid to turn tables to address LGBTQIA+ topics in his sermons such as trans rights, hate crimes and discrimination.  

Brandon challenges us to be more like Jesus as we spread love through our sanctuary, our community and our world. Brandon Johnson is a Light Bearer + Table Turner and the world needs more people like Brandon.

RJ Robles presents the “Light Bearer + Table Turner Award” to Brandon Johnson, pictured with Moderator Rev. Luther Young.

With gratitude for these individuals and their faith communities, we celebrate all the ways all of you embody our values and strive to build a more just and inclusive church.