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Rolland "Rolly" Loomis, a highway builder and concrete pipe manufacturer by trade, began dedicating his life to serving others around the world after making a deal with God 20 years ago.
"My mom, who was my best friend, became ill with melanoma. I told God that if he would save her, I would dedicate myself to doing his work. She was given six months to live but managed to live another 6 and a half years."
The extra time with his mother served as a call to action.
After moving to Tucson in August 2003, Loomis immersed himself in activities at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, 4625 E. River Road. St. Francis works to promote equality and justice for the LGBTQ community, refugees, the homeless and other underserved populations.
When senior pastor David Wilkinson took notice of his dedication, he asked Loomis to serve as a lay pastor. Learning on the fly, he has served there for more than nine years, and for two years he's been the missionary for outreach ministries at the United Methodist Desert Southwest Conference. "In the past two years," Loomis says, "I've probably preached in 25 to 35 churches all over the country, and I have yet to find a church as amazing as St. Francis."
Loomis has also worked on projects in several African countries on behalf of St. Francis and the Desert Southwest Conference. He coordinated a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign for a health-care initiative called Imagine No Malaria, a global effort that has helped bring about a huge decrease in the number of deaths from that disease. He has also been involved with the construction of schools and wells, organized mobile health clinics and developed curriculum for promoting LGBTQ equality.
Despite his local acceptance and strong support from many senior officials within the United Methodist church in the U.S., being openly gay has presented challenges in his path to becoming a fully ordained UMC pastor. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell is alive and well," Loomis explains.
As he fought poverty and disease in Africa, Loomis fought anti-gay discrimination there at the same time. Meeting and befriending the Rev. Dr. Eunice Iliya of Nigeria was a turning point in this struggle. When Loomis first came out to her, she "appeared shocked and didn't understand." When she told him she believed that no one in Nigeria was gay, he "reminded her that people in Nigeria pay the ultimate price if they are openly gay—the death penalty." Iliya is now considered a hero in the movement for LGBTQ rights in Africa, taking a stand within the church for equality. Loomis believes it's because of their friendship. "Barriers and misconceptions fall away when people have face-to-face conversations."
To help bring about a new era of acceptance for the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church, Loomis has recently been appointed to a part-time position working for the Reconciling Ministries Network, a group of pro-equality UMC churches in the United States. This job focuses specifically on having conversations and developing relationships with African churches on behalf of LGBTQ acceptance. He hopes that "in 20 years, being openly gay in this church will be a nonissue" both in the U.S. and in Africa.
Loomis was married to his partner of 32 years, Roy DeBise, in Binghamton, N.Y., last July 6 by ordained UMC pastor Steve Heiss, who has since been brought up on charges within the church for conducting same-gender weddings. Dozens of ordained pastors in the UMC are now following Heiss' example in what is being referred to as a "heating up" of the church. It is hoped that change will come about by overwhelming the system in a manner similar to the sit-ins of the 1960s civil rights movement.
When asked to describe the essence of his work, Loomis says he is "called to shine light in dark places." He believes "it's in our interest as a global community to take action to become a more peaceful, peaceable world ... and do the work that needs to be done to administer to all people."
We are fortunate to have Loomis shining his light in Tucson as he selflessly helps others and paves the way for justice and equality throughout the world.