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Virginia West Davidson

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Virginia West Davidson, known as Ginny to her family and friends, was born August 28, 1916, in Rochester, New York. Her parents were James H. West and Beatrice K. West. She grew up in Irondequoit along with her older sister Janet and younger sister Eleanor (EJ). Ginny and her sisters especially loved their horse named Cappy Ricks. The family attended Brick Church (now part of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church) where Ginny was formally welcomed into membership in 1929. When she was very young she told her mom that she wanted to go to the church with the beautiful Bible windows.

She attended the University of Rochester and then Wellesley College, from which she earned her B.S. degree.  After college, Ginny went to work for Kodak. During World War II, she took a job with the Red Cross traveling to London to help set up Red Cross Centers for the soldiers. She has shared many of the stories of those who had been wounded or needed a friendly face, a place to go to talk about their families.

When she returned home she fell in love with Samuel B. Davidson ("Davie"). They were married in the Taylor Chapel at the Brick Church. Together they created a wonderful family raising four active bright children: James, John, Eleanor, and Peter.

After their children went off to college and professions, Ginny and Davie moved downtown to Gibbs Street as they wanted to become a part of the redevelopment of the city they loved. Her involvement with the Downtown Church increased as did her leadership skills as she began to serve on committees of the Genesee Valley Presbytery. She was elected Moderator of the Genesee Valley Presbytery which enabled her to attend her first General Assembly of The United Presbyterian Church in 1974. As she was leaving for General Assembly Davie said, “Now don’t take on any more responsibilities --and her comment was “Don’t worry, I won’t.” Rev. Bob Lamar of Albany, New York, was elected Moderator of The United Presbyterian Church that year. In one of the Assembly hallways, Ginny greeted him offering her congratulations and said that she had voted for him as she thought he was the best candidate. He said,” I am glad you did, for I would like you to serve as Vice Moderator to travel this country especially to encourage women’s leadership.” She said she was stunned. She called Davie right away and said, "You will never guess what has happened here." As she was named Vice Moderator, Davie appeared at her side--a surprise and a gift she remembered all of her life.

In 1976, Ginny was asked to chair the Task Force on Homosexuality and the Church by the Moderator Dr. Thelma Adair. It was because of a dear associate pastor friend who had shared with her his story as a gay man that Ginny knew she must say yes.  She had learned so much from his story and her own reading. Thus began the Task Force's two year study, still referred to by many for its tremendous research in the areas of Bible, theology, psychology and scientific knowledge.

Following the Task Force study and travel and after hearing so many stories of family and friends, she decided to go to Colgate Rochester Seminary at the age of 62. She said she had become weary over those two years of people waving their gold embossed swords on their red Bibles in her face. When asked at the end of her studies if she intended be ordained (underlying that question was--will you be ordained as a minister?) she would answer, "I am ordained. I am a Presbyterian Elder and that works just fine for me." Davie became very ill and Ginny halted her seminary studies to be with him in his last years. Two years after his death she was invited to finish her Masters in Theology degree. Her brilliant dissertation was based on the merger process of the three downtown churches and was named “Ministry as a Partnership Affair."

Her awards for her service to the church are known all over the country. Nationally she received the Woman of Faith Award; the Witherspoon Award for her advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and the More Light Award for her work as Co-moderator of Advocacy of the More Light Network. She was a founding member and Moderator of That all May Freely Serve and received many local awards in Rochester including the Distinguished Alumna Award at Colgate Rochester Seminary and Interfaith Advocacy Award for Justice and Peace.  

Ginny served on two Pastor Nominating Committees at Downtown Church. One was the call to Rev. David Romig from New York City in the 1980’s and other to call the Rev. Janie Spahr in the early 1990’s to serve as one of the four co-pastors. When Janie was denied the call by the denomination’s highest court (the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission), the Downtown United Presbyterian church invited Janie to become their “Evangelist.” Thus the ministry called That all May Freely Serve was created--“to spread the good news of God’s love and welcome for all.” Ginny and Janie with many touring partners from the Downtown Church travelled the country opening people’s hearts and minds to spread the good news--to dispel the myths, to challenge the stereotypes and most of all to share that everyone is welcome at God’s table. Ginny and Janie travelled together for 17 years and were known as the “Thelma and Louise of the Presbyterian Church,” though Ginny always said "but we never went over the cliff!” Ginny and Janie treasured those moments of shared narratives of peoples' lives.

Virginia West Davidson is legendary in her advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends. She is revered around this country as ally and friend--as a sister of the faith in this liberation journey for love and justice. She strode into peoples' lives with that West Sister walk and white-white hair and faith communities opened their doors, minds, and hearts. She invited all to know that God sees lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a gift to the world. She would say to the churches: “Now is the time. Do not wait to join us when it is comfortable. The gospel calls us to be uncomfortable and do what is just." "NO MORE SILENCE," she would add, "yes, this is the time and this is the opportunity.”

Ginny’s speeches, sermons and writings were gathered by Ginny and then by her eldest son Jim and sent to Auburn Union Seminary archives where all may enjoy her amazing scholarship, wit and beautiful heart. As many know she was a voracious reader and an up-to-date scholar on feminist discourse.

Ginny died peacefully in her Rochester home on Monday, October 19, 2009. She is survived by her four children: James an historian in Rhinebeck, New York; John, a writer in Paris, France; Eleanor "Nell", a physician in Cleveland Heights, Ohio; and Peter, a physician in Boston, Mass.

A group of us gathered after her death and compiled these thoughts: "We love you Ginny Davidson. You have been there when we wondered 'did anyone understand?' There you were loving us into who you knew we could be. We send you with great love and thank you for your faithfulness and witness. May you enjoy your family who have been waiting for you as we your family and friends grieve our great loss of you. Wishing we could love you here just one more day. We will not hold on. Be free dear friend. Feel loved and cherished."

(This biographical statement provided by Janie Spahr.)

Created: 12/2/2009 4:17:35 PM

Modified: 12/4/2009 6:27:27 PM

Biography: December, 2009