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Charger Connections - A Story of Enduring Friendship

Marriages aren’t the only lifelong bonds formed among Providence Day alumni - the strength of PD friendships endures in powerful ways, too.

“Lifers” Lewis Dancy and Matthew Heyd met in 1975 while attending first grade with 39 other classmates at Providence Day. Thirty-seven years later, Heyd was the officiant at the marriage of Lewis and his husband Michael in the chapel of the Church of Heavenly Rest in New York City.

The youngest of four children, Dancy followed in his older siblings’ footsteps by attending Providence Day. “My cousin was in the first group of first graders at PD,” recalls Dancy. “My oldest sister is 10 years older than me so our family was there close to the beginning in 1971 until I graduated in 1988.” 

His friendship with Heyd formed right away, too: “When we were younger, we went to each other’s birthday parties and that kind of thing. We continued to be friends in high school and he came to my 16th birthday party,” a surprise party his sister and mom threw for him. The class of ’88 grew to 68 students, so it remained a tight-knit group throughout the years.

“One of the great things about PD is that we really grew up together,” says Heyd. “Lewis was always and still is a wonderful, kind, smart person. There were a couple of us who were together for 16 years; he and I and Amy (Field) Bynum and one or two other people from PD went to [UNC] Chapel Hill and knew each other into early adulthood. There were a million small moments growing up together in the same place and doing the same things.”

One of Dancy’s favorite activities from 7th grade through senior year was handbells, a music elective offered at that time. “I was the only boy and that invited a lot of ridicule, but I have these fun memories, and at that point you’re trying to figure yourself out, but I didn’t come out to myself until I was older,” says Dancy. Rodney Currin was the handbell teacher who served as a mentor to Dancy. “He was very kind to me and we were always a tight-knit group because it was only eight kids. He set this example for me that was always in the back of my mind.” 

Heyd reflects, “We grew up at a school at a time where [being gay] was not something that was accepted, and so now that it is and PD has stepped forward, it’s terrific.”

The friends pursued different paths at UNC – Heyd stayed busy with student government and was a Morehead Scholar who found time to teach Sunday School at Chapel Hill, while Dancy focused on his dual majors of German and History, though they still saw each other frequently. “We would drive back to Charlotte together for breaks because he had a car and I didn’t,” says Dancy. Heyd laughs, “I’ve never had a comfortable car so it’s amazing that he remembers me giving him rides.”

Dancy ultimately earned a master’s in liberal studies at Duke. “The final product was curating photography into a book of snapshots of gay and lesbian natives of N.C.,” says Dancy. “That was around the time of the Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in N.C.” That measure, known as Amendment One, passed in a 2012 voter referendum but was overturned in federal court two years later. 

Heyd always thought he would pursue a law degree, but instead went from PD to Chapel Hill to Yale Divinity School, thanks to the influence of a Chapel Hill professor who encouraged the path. Additionally, “there was social justice work at Chapel Hill around questions of race and racism at UNC and I wanted to explore what the faith/values basis for doing that work was.”

Ultimately, Heyd moved to New York City where he has lived for 25 years. “I’m Rector of a parish here in Manhattan at 90th and 5th at Central Park. The Guggenheim Museum is our next door neighbor and we are near the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum on Museum Mile,” Heyd says. “It’s an incredible community. The most important thing we do is care for each other, and that’s reaching out to people in moments of transition whether that’s baptism or marriage or memorials.” 

Dancy has lived in Durham, N.C. since 2000 and works for Self-Help, a family of community development financial institutions. He manages mortgage servicing, mortgage collections, branch facilities, training, and merger integration. “We do a lot of commercial lending, we buy loans nationwide and have an advocacy organization that’s centered around responsible lending,” Dancy says. His work intersected with Heyd before the era of Facebook when Heyd managed the foundation at a church that did business with some of Dancy’s colleagues in New York City. 

Although they were later connected on Facebook, the two friends had not spoken for years when Dancy reached out about his wedding around early 2014. “My partner and I had been together for 20 years and wanted to get married,” says Dancy. “At that time, it wasn’t legal in N.C., and D.C. was the closest place you could go but it required a two-week waiting period when you got your marriage license so it required two trips. Our 20th anniversary over MLK weekend was coming up and we planned to go to New York where the waiting period is 24 hours.” 

“It was just an incredible honor,” says Heyd. “At the time, marriage equality was a part of our church experience and New York state law that was not yet national. My perspective on it is that it’s wonderful to be able to form a life with people you love and it’s been a wonderful step forward for our church.”

Dancy’s niece lived in New York at the time, so she met the couple at Heyd’s office to serve as a witness and wedding photographer. “We thought we would just get married in the office, but he took us downstairs to the chapel that was just gorgeous,” says Dancy. “Instead of stained glass it was iridescent mosaic tiles, and he lit candles, put on his vestments, the whole nine yards. It was the first same-sex wedding that he officiated.” 

The Episcopal Church was unique at that time for having liturgy for marriage rites between two people of the same gender. “In our faith, it starts with our relationship with God and how everybody is loved by God,” says Heyd. “Now we’re using the ceremony for other folks in part because the marriage ceremony most places use dates from the Reformation or thereabouts, and while it’s been scrubbed a bit, it’s still the remnant of women being given as property. For us, it just recognizes what we think God is already doing.” 

The wedding day was everything Lewis and Michael hoped for. “It was fantastic,” he says.“ After celebrating with a small group after the ceremony, “We posted the news on Facebook in the cab and were flooded instantly with PD people commenting.” 

Now serving on Providence Day’s Board of Trustees, Heyd reflects on his PD experience. “I am really grateful for growing up at Providence Day. I’m really proud of the (current) focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion because that was not part of the DNA – in some ways, DNA can change – when I grew up.” 

Dancy has remained involved with Providence Day as well, and has continued to attend class reunions. “There were seven of us lifers and we grew up together. At that time you knew all of the parents because they worked in the cafeteria, and you just developed a real fondness not just for the kids but for the family. You grow up, and adults are nicer than children, so I had a blast reconnecting with people. Life happens, too, as you get older – you get divorced, you get seriously ill, there’s just stuff that makes you mellow out.”

Heyd is grateful for his role in Dancy’s story. “It’s especially true of marriage equality, it takes courage to step forward publicly. Any marriage is an act of courage but this is a special act of courage...,” says Heyd. “What’s important is that it was both a privilege for me to be a part of it and an act of courage by Lewis.”

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