Jan Selby
July 17, 1933 - June 12, 2019

God of life and love, we come to this time together
with deep gratitude for Jan’s life and all the ways he impacted each one of us.
We come seeking strength and resilience as we learn to live with the pain of our loss.
Comfort us in our grief and turn our mourning into dancing as we remember and celebrate Jan’s life. Lift our eyes and our hearts to see and feel the fullness of your overflowing love.
Remind us that nothing in life or in death can separate us from your unfailing love.
So we are confident his spirit now rests forever in your loving embrace.
He gave so much of himself to foster love in the world with family, friends, fellow believers, and with his patients. Inspire us to love others, following the example Jan modeled for us.

by Pastor Jeff Wells

On behalf of The Church of the Village and myself, I extend our deepest sympathy to David and to all of you who loved and treasured Jan. 

I speak from the vantage of being Jan’s pastor at the Church of the Village for the past 4-½ years, but also his collaborator in various leadership capacities there. Jan had been a member of Metropolitan Duane United Methodist Church and then of its successor, The Church of the Village, for decades. He had many good and long-time friends as well as new friends there. Our community misses our dear friend very much. 

I will focus my remarks today on the Jan’s faith and how it shaped who he was and his relationship to the church and to life in general. 

Jan grew up in a poor working class family with eleven siblings during the Great Depression. That was surely a challenging beginning. But he was active in his local Methodist church and the pastor, recognizing how gifted he was, mentored and encouraged him. Due to this pastors significant efforts, Jan was able to attend college and seminary. His home church bought a basic library for him to use in his studies. 

While Jan was still in college and serving small churches in Ohio, Jan became aware that all of his sexual fantasies were about males. At the time, he believed that these feelings were perverted. That made him too ashamed to tell anyone for a very long time. 

Yet Jan had a very deep and powerful sense of calling to ordained ministry. So, in spite of feeling isolated and lonely and the pain of having to keep this secret from nearly everyone, after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, Jan enrolled in Boston University School of Theology. It was there that he finally revealed to one of his professors that he was attracted to men. While the professor showed a lot of sensitivity and compassion toward Jan, he also said homosexuality was “aberrant behavior.”

In the face of his personal struggles and society’s condemnation, Jan showed deep determination and quiet courage. In 1963, he graduated with a Masters in Sacred Theology and was soon ordained as a clergy member in the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

He served two churches in that conference in the 1960s. He led community efforts around poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse. Also, he showed his courage and convictions in joining civil rights demonstrations in Massachusetts and the South. Jan earned a reputation as a radical minister. For his social activism and probably because of suspicions around him being single, leaders of the last church he was served voted to ask the bishop to transfer him. 

Jan realized that he was not going to be accepted in the church for who he was. Looking back in 2001, he wrote that, “My experience told me I could not remain in pastoral ministry. It took ten years of intense psychotherapy to figure out that I could not exist in the sexual closet I had constructed for myself. My loathing of my sexual preference combined with society’s condemnation, back up by that of the church, led to my desperate flight from serving as an ordained elder.”

For me, that did not mean he was no longer in ministry, only that he found other ways to express it. He moved to New York City in the late 1960s or early ’70s and embarked on a career in social work and then in a private psychotherapy practice. In these ways, I believe Jan continued a ministry of love and justice. Clearly he loved what he did because he continued seeing patients until a few weeks before his death. 

And, while Jan was not serving as a church pastor, he never gave up his ordination credentials. I know that he valued his ordination because he faithfully prepared his annual report to the New England Conference every year and gave me a copy. Ultimately, Jan found and joined Metropolitan Duane UMC, where he did feel accepted and loved. Over the decades, Jan served in numerous leadership roles in our church. And I am so glad that since 2006, he has been recognized as one of the Ministers in Residence at The Church of the Village. I think Jan was very proud of that. 

Since 1972, the UMC has officially condemned the practice of homosexuality, which led to an implicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In a 2001 statement to the Judicial Council of the denomination, Jan wrote, “The essential message of Christianity is the open and complete acceptance of every person, regardless of race, creed, or sin.” So “how,” he asked, “can the church now condemn a whole group of people to silence and hypocrisy?” He went on to say, “I am not asking the church to approve homosexuality, but that it not condemn or exclude me.” The document he wrote was another example, for me, of Jan’s quiet courage.

The Church of the Village and its predecessor congregations have always been in open rebellion against the exclusionary position of the United Methodist Church regarding LGBTQ+ persons. A few months after I arrived at the Church of the Village in 2015, we voted to allow same-gender weddings in our sanctuary. I remember that Jan surprised me when he told me he disagreed with that vote. 

I remember him pulling me aside and saying, “I have to tell you that I am more conservative than most members of the congregation.” I replied with something like, “Thank you for letting me know. You have probably figured out by now that I am more radical than most of the members. So, thank God, the primary goal in our community is to love and celebrate one another without regard to our differences.”

Our differing theological and political perspectives never got in the way of our working together. As recently as last summer, Jan was instrumental in helping plan the Congregational Care Training that we held last fall. Due to his struggle with cancer, he felt he could not participate in the training itself. Yet his spirit and loving care for others had a big impact on our successful efforts. And, for me, it was a joy to work with him so closely on that project. 

Jan continued to attending worship frequently until the onset of cancer slowed him down and, understandably, also heightened his desire to spend every possible moment with David. I thank God that Jan and David found each other and had so many wonderful years together. And I am personally grateful that I had the opportunity to know and work with this wonderful, gentle, courageous man.