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Couple from All Pilgrims do three-month mission in Sri Lanka

Mary Olney-Loyd and her husband Gary Loyd, who are members of All Pilgrims UCC and Disciples Church, are spending three months volunteering in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, through the United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ Global Ministries.

“We hope to be helpful in Sri Lanka and expect to be transformed,” Gary said about their trip. “We expect to make new friends in Jaffna.”

Mary Olney-Loyd and Gary Loyd

Gary Loyd, left, and Mary Olney-Loyd, right, meet with a couple who work with Church World Service and CTS principal Jude Sutharshan, next to Mary.                             Photo courtesy of Mary Olney-Loyd

At All Pilgrims, they sing in the choir, and Mary is on the mission committee and assists with worship. 

They applied in the fall of 2015 to fulfill Mary’s lifelong dream to follow in the footsteps of missionaries in her family history and cousins who were 25 years in Brazil.  An uncle taught Greek and did translation in Indonesia and other South American countries.

A pastor’s daughter, she grew up in Nebraska and Wyoming, and graduated in music in 1974 at Clark College.  She earned a master’s in music at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1976 and worked in a UCC church in Chelsea, Mich., three years leading music and Christian education,” said Mary, who graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1982.

First, she was associate pastor at First Congregational UCC in Portland, Ore., and took CPE training in Boise before moving to Illinois to be pastor in a small farming community.

Mary served UCC and Disciples churches in Illinois, Michigan and Washington, where she started at Monroe in 1997, and served interims at Alki UCC and Northwest United Protestant Church in Richland.  She was settled pastor at First Christian Church in Olympia and Lake City Christian Church and interim at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, Hawaii, retiring in 2014.

Mary served on the United Church Board for World Ministries from 1987 to 1995, when the Common Global Ministries Board formed.

Gary grew up in Craig, Colorado, and graduated in 1968 from Colorado State University in Fort Collins with a degree in business administration and industrial engineering.  He worked as an industrial engineer for six years, and then returned to rural Colorado to Steamboat Springs for 14 years, working up to assistant manager of a lumber yard.  When his father retired, Gary purchased his dry cleaning business in Craig and ran it for 20 years.

After his first wife died of cancer in 2001, he went back to church for support. Two years later, he met Mary when she came to candidate at his church.  She was not called, but a year later in 2004, they were married.

Gary sold his business and moved to Olympia, working part-time in a hardware and lumber store, and retiring before they moved to Seattle.

“I just follow Mary where she wants to go,” he said of catching her “travel bug” that has taken them on a tour to Turkey and after Hawaii for two months in New Zealand.

Mary traveled to Northwest Mexico as part of a partnership the church in Michigan had in the 1990s.  In 1984, she went to the Holy Land and in 1995 to the World Conference on Women in Beijing.

In 1998, she visited the PNCUCC partners in the Presbytery of East Seoul in South Korea, and, in 1999, she visited Germany as part of the partnership with Berlin-Brandenburg.

Mary has served on and off on the PNC and Northwest Region Disciples Global Ministries Committee, and plans to co-chair it with Ed Evans when she returns from Jaffna.

In Jaffna, which is in the far north of Sri Lanka, there are three institutions that relate to Global Ministries.  Mary and Gary are at Christian Theological Seminary.  There is also a secondary college prep and technical school, Jaffna College, and the Udevil Girls’ School.

Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka are predominantly the Tamil ethnic group, a small minority population that has experienced discrimination in Sri Lanka, Mary said. 

“In 1816, missionaries came to Jaffna from the American Board of Christian Foreign Mission, the predecessor of Global Ministries,” said Mary.  “So they have just celebrated their 200th anniversary.”

Mary is teaching English, focusing on conversation.  She is also teaching orphan boys from Batticoloa, who are in Jaffna for three months studying English.  She may teach at a nearby displaced persons camp.  Many people are still unable to return home since the civil war.

“This community is very poor, but are eager to have help with conversational English,” she said.

Gary is helping with building improvements.  The library has dust and water issues. He is developing ways to make improvements with those issues.

Mary said that for years, Jaffna suffered during the civil war from 1983 to 2009.  Before going, they had read in the November National Geographic that there are still land mines from the war and much of the countryside is being de-mined.

Bob Porter, who now lives in Seattle, served at Jaffna College until the war was bad.

Global Ministries has also appointed two women, one as a volunteer to teach English at Jaffna College and a retired conference minister to serve a congregation and to mentor four women studying to be ordained ministers.

After their three months in Jaffna, Mary and Gary will visit in Vietnam and Cambodia for three weeks, returning April 20.

For information, call 206-291-8953 or email


Copyright © February 2017 Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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