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Rev. Gwen Hall dies Aug. 24 - many mourn the loss of a leader
Rev. Gwen Hall dies Aug. 24 - many mourn the loss of a leader
Founder of Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church and a passionate activist for social change

by Liz Meyer - SGN Staff Writer

The Rev. Gwen Hall, as celebrated for her involvement in a seemingly endless list of social justice issues as she was for her capacity to commit to all of those causes equally, died August 24 at Swedish Hospital. She was 56.

"In this day and age of caller ID, one of her hallmarks was that she always answered the call for help," said her close friend/former partner, Trina Banks. "Sometimes the call meant, 'There's a young man being checked into Harborview with HIV. Can you go?' Those kinds of calls, even those ones that didn't appear to the rest of us to be dire, she always answered."

As the founding pastor of the Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church, the Rev. Hall answered what she saw as a call for more open and affirming churches in Seattle. A Master's from Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry helped solidify the Rev. Hall's intellectual approach to religion. It was from this standpoint that the Rev. Hall advocated for equality for all within the church.

"Most of all, what I celebrate about her is that, as the first person to bring an affirming ministry in the African American community to Seattle, she opened doors for future generations to know that we do not have to separate our faith from who we love," said the Rev. David Strong, a close friend of Hall's. "She was a consistent advocate for equality and justice for all people. She spoke out on a broad range of issues from war, to immigration, to police brutality. Her sense of service was broad but interconnected."

The Rev. Hall constantly remarked, "I don't have the luxury of standing on the sidelines and watching." This desire or, rather, a sense of obligation to be involved wherever she was needed, informed much of her life's work.

The many organizations with whom the Rev. Hall worked included: Lesbian Resource Center, Black Student Union at the University of Washington, Lambert House, Bailey Boushay House, ACT UP, March on Washington, Freedom Day committee, and Rosehedge. She was particularly concerned with the intersections of racism and the AIDS epidemic, and fought hard to ensure the visibility of African Americans in battling HIV and AIDS. She also contributed as a marriage and family counselor, as a volunteer for the Democratic Party, and as a champion of working class rights. Additionally, she was the first openly Gay person to give the opening day prayer at Seattle's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March and Rally.

A survivor of childhood sexual assault, the Rev. Hall "just understood pain," said Constance Miller, a close friend of Hall's for thirty years. "[The sexual assault] played a big part in her life," said Miller. "I think that experience, that horror, made her more sensitive to others who had similar experiences."

Indeed, she encouraged other survivors of sexual assault to seek counseling, and made a point of being a resource for them herself. "She had very broad shoulders," said Miller. "She was always on call."

The Rev. Hall's words also speak to this idea of living a life devoted to service and to others. In a keynote speech she gave in 2000 at Forward in Faith, a conference held by the Episcopal Church in response to HIV/AIDS, she acknowledged such a life wasn't always easy, but that it was a necessity. "When you feel like quitting, and when you're tired, you need to go just one step beyond," said Hall. "We all feel like quitting. We all get tired. And, we all need to go just one step beyond."

"Gwen had a teaching that you must make a difference between the day you were born and the day you died, in between the dashes," said the Rev. Strong. "This past Sunday, I preached a tribute sermon for her at Sojourner Truth, and I used that teaching to frame my message. In between the dashes, Gwen Hall, served, loved, forgave, healed, and spoke out, for all of God's people. She made a difference in not only my life, but in our community. There is an empty place in our community. We must continue her work and ministry."

The Rev. Hall is survived by her former partner, Trina Banks; her son M. Gwynn DeQuincy Hall and a daughter-in-law; three grandchildren, Marlon, Nia and JaNaya; three brothers, M. DuBois, Jerome Hall and John Hall; her sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and a loving Church family.

Services for the Rev. Hall will be held this Saturday, September 8th, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m at the Southwest Funeral Home located at 9021 Rainier Ave. S. in Seattle. The funeral and memorial services will be followed by a repast/reception at Sojourner Truth Ministeries, located in Seattle at 2524 16th Ave. S. in the El Centro De La Raza building. All are welcome to attend the reception. The family requests flowers be sent to the funeral home, and donations be sent to Sojourner Truth Ministries, 2524 16th Ave. S., Room 209-A, Seattle, WA 98144.

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