Reflections from the editors

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Dr. Dorothee Benz, Rev. Doug Cunningham, Rev. Vicki Flippin and Rev. Scott Summerville

gay-married-1Over the last eight months, week in and week out, We Did authors have told stories of flesh-and-blood people whom they ministered to and whose weddings they performed. Some of the stories have been heartbreaking (the couple who wanted to get married before death claimed one of them) or dramatic (the couple that fell in love after one nearly died in an accident), others have been simply joyful (“dancing down the aisle”). Some of the authors were officiating weddings for longtime parishioners or people they baptized, some offered their ministry to family members, and some to strangers who were in search of clergy to bless their unions in the faith they grew up in. Some of the weddings took place in churches, some outside, one in an old three-car garage turned into a mission for homeless people. There were stories from long ago, like the pastor who married people in the midst of the horror of death that was the early AIDS crisis, and stories from just a few months ago. But every single story was about love and ministry and community.

This project began as an act of solidarity with Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, who was brought up on official church charges for officiating at his son’s wedding. Clergy from around our conference who had also performed same-sex weddings gathered to discuss what their unique contribution in support of Tom might be, and they decided that telling their stories – that they had done exactly what Tom now faced prosecution for – was that unique contribution.

But the effect of these 31 stories has been far greater than any specific act of solidarity. Together, they have made real and made normal the desire of two people of the same sex to marry. Together, they have demonstrated – in a way that no amount of biblical exegesis or commentary on the Book of Discipline ever could – that it is untenable, indeed impossible, to require clergy to discriminate. Together, they have laid bare the reality that the issue at stake in our denomination really is homophobia and discrimination, not lofty ideals of covenant or the authority of scripture. Together, they have ended the pretense that there is a “debate” between two equal sides about how we should treat LGBTQ people.

The effect of this powerful witness can be seen throughout our conference and beyond. It created a context in which Bishop McLee could declare as part of the resolution in Tom Ogletree’s case, “I call for and commit to a cessation of trials” for clergy performing these marriages. It helped set the tone for the public forum on May 10, in which Rev. Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller and Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey eloquently explained that LGBTQ people are part of our church, not alien outsiders, and that their seeking change in the church is right and normal. The We Did stories have been published each week on MIND’s website and simultaneously on RMN’s blog, giving them a national audience. With this witness, as with We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality, our conference is providing leadership and inspiration to the national movement. We are finding a way out of the 40-plus-year spiritual wilderness of the UMC’s bigotry: we refuse, simply, to any longer be complicit in it.

I would make the same decision again

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Frank Schaefer

schaeferWhen my son Tim was in high school, I received a phone call one day from a woman in the community. She wanted to remain anonymous but she said it was very urgent. She said, “I know that your son is struggling with his sexual identity and he is considering taking his own life.” I was in disbelief.  My wife and I sat down with him and asked him, and he said yes, it was true, he was considering suicide.  And what he started to share with us was heartrending.

Tim told us that he had cried himself to sleep many nights, praying to God to make him different, to make him “normal.” And he shared with us that it all started when he went with me to an annual conference meeting. There was a debate on the floor about homosexuality and that was when he learned for the very first time that his own church, the only faith he knew, was telling him that he was a freak. That there was no place for him in the church he grew up in. Tim had always been a very good PK:  he had been active in the youth group, he preached on youth Sunday and he had the largest contemporary Christian music collection of any person that I knew. Faith was very important to him. And to hear that message from his own church was devastating.

When we heard his story, we were devastated, too. We could not hold back our tears and we just hugged him and cried and held him for a very, very long time. And then we told him how much we loved him and how that would never change. We started to affirm him and we said things to him like, you are made in the image of God, God made you this way and you should be proud of who you are. It was a real struggle for him because the spiritual violence inflicted on him by his own church had cut so very deep. But he did get there, he did come to accept himself for who God created him to be – a beautiful gay man.

Years later when he met his fiancé and they started dating and became serious after a couple of years, he called me. He broke the news, “Dad, I got engaged to Bobby,” and that was good news indeed. Then he proceeded to ask me, “Dad, would you do my wedding?” I said, “Absolutely!” How could I possibly have done anything else?

When the day of the wedding came, I was a little nervous. It was my first gay wedding. I had never even attended a same-sex ceremony before, let alone officiated one. In preparation, I had done some research to figure out how to adjust the liturgy and designed a service that was right for this occasion.

It was a beautiful affair! It was deeply meaningful for me personally, but it was equally meaningful to all those who were there. Gathered family and friends were proud to be there to support Tim and Bobby, and overjoyed that they had found each other. The applause was bigger and longer than any I’ve heard at a heterosexual wedding, an affirmation that “such love is from no other source than from God,” as I said in my sermon – no matter what anyone, or any church, says.

What I remember most about that day was the reaction of Bobby’s family, a mix of Italian Roman Catholics and Orthodox Greeks. So many of them came up to me afterwards to thank me. They had assumed that Bobby might someday be able to marry and have a service performed by a justice of the peace, but they never dreamed that a religious wedding, officiated by a clergyperson, might to possible. That is was meant the world to them, and they were so grateful.

As everyone knows, I was eventually brought up on official charges for performing this wedding, tried in a church trial, convicted and defrocked. My calendar, however, has never been as full of preaching engagements as it has in the five months since that sentence. God’s message, it seems, has been “I’m going to frock you right back up.”

If I had it to do over, I would make the same decision again. How could I possibly do otherwise?

Frank Schaefer is a former elder in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference and is now speaking and preaching on behalf of the human rights of LGBTQ people. He will be MIND’s speaker at this year’s annual conference lunch, June 6, 2014.

We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here.  We invite you to submit your own story to We Did. 

I would not be the one who said no to this couple

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Rev. Dr. Emily B. Hall

hall-photoIn the spring of 2011 friends of mine came to me and asked me if I would officiate at their wedding.  These two people are two of my closest friends.  Jane who is a man who identifies as trans and Jill who identifies as bisexual.

Having many questions, mostly around the traditional views of sex, and orientation, I asked a couple thousand questions about their relationship, polyamory, the hope for monogamy, the United Methodist Book of Discipline, traditional marriage vows, the very intriguing history of their lives, my own theological and social standing.  With all of this in mind, I weighed the pros of their love and the cons of clarity and decided that what God has brought together, no human should take apart.

Jill stated she had a call into ministry in the United Methodist Church and was in process to get ordained.  Despite my own pre-conceptions of society and the church, Jill was the closest person to a disciple I had ever met.  However she had some labels for herself that I couldn’t quite mesh with my traditional theological stance.  She is polyamorous and she identifies as a bisexual.

Jane was my soul “sister,” so to speak.  She was everything that I am, but was physically a man. Jane  presents herself in the skin for which she  was born. She is tall, dark, has a beard, smiles a lot, and does the guy thing (you know, like build stuff, fix electrical stuff, clean up the yard).  However when you talk to Jane, you are talking to a woman. She told me that he believes she was born in the wrong skin.  If she has been born today – she would begin the process for gender re-assignment.

Anyway – I decided that none of the reasons to not do this wedding (history, polyamory, the Book of Discipline) were relevant.  What I heard when I spoke to these two people, was an undying dedication to Jesus, justice and their family. I learned of two people who had been turned aside by the world and loved each other despite the fact that the world may see them as different, or even deviant.

For me, I knew I would not be the one who said no to this couple. I would stand up for them, with them and I knew that this marriage was a higher covenant than just a simple series of “I dos” throughout their marriage – no matter where it may take them.

The day they married, they stood barefoot in the most beautiful garden in upstate New York that they could find.  Jill’s son stood between them as the circle they would soon join was not just a circle with Jane and Jill – but a circle with their son as well.  Love is a sacred gift. That day in October 2012 they made promises to each other and to their son that they would live and abide by the vows they made, and without a doubt there was no place I’d have rather been that day than  there with these two women and their son.

Emily Hall is an elder in the New York Annual working in extension ministry as the Director of Chaplaincy Services in a state psychiatric facility in a nearby state.

We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here.  We invite you to submit your own story to We Did. 

A beautiful expression of their hopes and dreams

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Rev. Martha Morrison

morrison-photoOne of the more memorable experiences of my ministry occurred at Washington Square UMC in New York City, where I served as pastor during the mid- to late-1980s.

One day I was approached by two men who were probably in their early forties in age.  They asked if I would consider officiating at a holy union for them within the next few months.  (There was no gay legal marriage at that time).  They had been in a loving relationship for a significant period of time and were ready to make a formal commitment to each other.  They were excited about having a celebration with family and friends, and they hoped it could be in the church.

We met for several sessions and I asked them to share with me the circumstances of their being drawn to each other and how they had concluded they wanted to build a life together.  The values they held in common and their financial resources, among other considerations, indicated they had looked seriously at their abilities to work through the happy and difficult times that occur in any ongoing relationship,

We worked together on the content of the ceremony they wanted to have.  They wanted to use much of the traditional UMC ceremony, but to formulate their own vows.  They wrote a sensitive and beautiful expression of their hopes and dreams and commitment to each other.

The day arrived and it was a very joy-filled experience for them and their family and friends, as well as for me.

Martha Morrison is a retired elder in the New York Annual Conference.

We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here.  We invite you to submit your own story to We Did.