The Rev. Dr. Wayne Edward Schwandt, pastor of a progressive Christian ministry affiliated with the United Church of Christ in Annapolis, Md., and a longtime advocate for LGBT equality, died May 5 at Prince George’s County Hospital. He was 65.
Chuck Riley, his husband and partner of 30 years, said Schwandt suffered what doctors believe was a seizure at the couple’s home in Southeast Washington on May 3 that led to complications, including heart failure.
A native of Wisconsin, Schwandt received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin before receiving a Master’s of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. He later received a Doctorate of Creation Spirituality from Wisdom University of the San Francisco Bay area.
Rev. Ryan Sirmons, pastor of United Church of Christ in Annapolis, said Schwandt in the mid-1990s founded Evolve Chesapeake, a ministry associated with Creation Spirituality, a progressive branch of Christianity that embraces diversity. The ministry, which welcomed the LGBT community, was based in various locations in the Annapolis area, Sirmons said, before it merged in 2013 with United Church of Christ in Annapolis.
Starting at that time, Schwandt performed a 6 p.m. service each Sunday at the church, which he preferred to call an Evolve Sacred Gathering, Sirmons said.
Among other things, Schwandt performed marriage ceremonies as an officiant in the Chesapeake Bay area for gay and straight couples alike. Many of the couples whose weddings he performed offered both high praise and condolences in postings on Schwandt’s Facebook page after learning of his passing.
Schwandt is credited with founding Chesapeake Pride, an annual LGBT Pride event held along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in a rural section of Anne Arundel County that Sirmons said helped spread the message of LGBT equality.
Sirmons and Gale Ransom, president of Evolve Ministry Network, called Schwandt a dedicated and committed minister who reached out to people, including members of the LGBT community, who often were not welcomed in the more conservative Christian denominations in which they were raised by their families.
“Wayne was somebody who was especially called to minister to or to find people who felt like they were on the edge of society and outside of the mainstream and tell them they were beloved of God,” Sirmons said.
“That’s what Wayne did,” he said. “He went to the outskirts of society to people who weren’t included in the main discussion, who were outside what was considered acceptable or normal and he made them know they were loved. And I think that’s a rare gift.”
Riley said Schwandt volunteered for a number of other organizations, including an HIV support group associated with the Anne Arundel County Health Center.
“He gave of himself to his church and the organizations he worked for,” said Riley.
“How lucky I am to have loved and known the man, Wayne Schwandt,” Riley wrote in a posting on Schwandt’s Facebook page. “Lucky is the right word, for he makes saying goodbye today so hard for us all.”
Riley said he was especially moved by a note he received in a condolence card by one of Schwandt’s friends, Ellen Spence.
“Wayne was a man of passion, love and ideals,” Spence wrote. He had compassion to his fellow travelers and a desire to bring the love of God and self-acceptance to his flock. He lived his life with a contagious joy. He walked the walk and talked the talk.”
A memorial service celebrating Schwandt’s life was held May 9 in Annapolis.
In addition to Riley, Schwandt is survived by four sons that the couple raised – Scott Riley of Ranson, W.Va.; Kyle Riley of Sydney, Australia; Matthew Riley of Dover, Del.; and Jason Schwandt of Durham, N.C.; a brother Bill Schwandt of Appleton, Wis.; and sister Roxanne Corpus of Delevan, Wis.; five grandchildren; and an aunt.