We saw Jesus in the faces of the people who attended

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Rev. Joe Agne

agne-photoFirst UMC of Boulder’s commitment to inclusion of LGBTQ persons is longstanding. Decades ago Rev. Julian Rush served as one of its pastors. The struggle for inclusion began in the open with his rejection as a gay man by the congregation, even though Rev. Rush had the support of the Rocky Mountain Area Bishop, Melvin Wheatley.  Many lay people and clergy worked hard for close to two decades to help it become a reconciling congregation, which was achieved in 1997. In an Easter Declaration in 2012 over 300 people signed First UMC’s commitment to offer full ministry to all persons, including support for weddings for all people in the sanctuary.

Betsy Lay and Alison Wisneski came to the congregation in 2011. Betsy is the Family Life Coordinator and Alison is a leader in FUMC’s nursery and Sunday school. Betsy says, “Of course we decided to hold our wedding at First UMC. The pastors were supportive. So was the whole congregation, including the children and youth.” On the first day of autumn September 22, 2013, they were married in the sanctuary of First UMC. Over 100 members came and many friends of Betsy and Alison beyond the congregation.

Betsy indicates, “We were part of a congregation that was seeking to be biblically obedient and willing  to be ecclesially disobedient. We were blessed that they wanted to stand with us and we were committed to stand with them. It is so good to be part of the everyday life of this congregation. We have never felt pointed out as the gay couple who got married here.”

Alison says, “Betsy and I are pretty different when it comes to levels of our openness. I scored nearly full extrovert on the Myers-Briggs scale, while Betsy was the perfect center of introvert and extrovert. She wanted a small, simple ceremony with just the pastors. I want to livestream it on the Love Prevails site. We found the perfect middle… We are disrupting on a level that we’re both comfortable with…. Betsy and I often joke that we believe Jesus would totally hang out with us. The Jesus we know, love and follow would have been sitting somewhere in the pews on (that) Sunday.  Chances are, the Jesus we know would have been laughing and crying right along with us. We saw Jesus in the faces of the people who attended.”

Betsy and Alison asked Pat Bruns (member of the Rocky Mountain Conference) and Joe Agne (member of the New York Conference) to officiate in their marriage. Pat and Joe say we had a ready answer, “We will.” And We Did.

Joe Agne is a retired elder in the New York Annual Conference, working part-time as the associate pastor at FUMC Boulder.

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 witness to the presence of God’s Spirit among us

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

This special Easter edition of We Did is a “He Did” story in honor of our late, great friend Rev. Richard S. Parker.
As told by Rev. Jack King

parker-dick-1Richard S. Parker held her tenderly in his arms and looked into her eyes as he lifted one hand to her head and said, “Charissa Elizabeth, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”  Flash forward 29 years.  Richard S. Parker looked into her eyes as he asked, “Do you, Charissa, take Kelly, to be your wife….”  Dick Parker’s officiating at a same-sex marriage was not simply an act of conscience, of non-compliance with a discriminatory provision in the United Methodist Discipline.  It was also a loving response to a simple request, “Uncle Dick, will you do our wedding?”

Dick and I became fast friends and associates in 1969 at Trinity UMC in Poughkeepsie.  When Joyce and I had our first child in 1972, Dick not only baptized her but took the whole visiting family on a sailing trip on the Hudson River.  Debbie Parker, their daughter, with one letter had changed the name of their boat, “Charisma,” to “Charissa” for the occasion.

While our professional paths parted in 1973, our families’ friendship continued.   Holiday dinners, summer sails, phone calls…two families bonded together.  When Charissa came out she knew she could count on the loving support of “Auntie Grace” and “Uncle Dick.”  Table conversations over the years made clear where they stood on issues of justice and equality and their opposition to homophobia, racism, sexism and greed.

Before the General Conference of 2000, Grace Parker had written to several of the delegates expressing her pain over “the rejection of God’s children by persons who call themselves Christian.”  She called on them to “return to the Wesleyan tradition of inclusiveness and service to those treated as marginal in our society.”

At that same General Conference, Dick Parker rose and made a motion for General Conference to declare a moratorium on current language regarding homosexuality to allow a quadrennium of healing and discernment in the life of the church. “We’ve had enough pain today around these issues. … What we need now is loving care and respect for each other,” he said   After another delegate objected, the motion was defeated 637 to 320.

Charissa King was filming a documentary at the 2000 General Conference about the discriminatory legislative acts against LGBT members of the church.  She also documented the trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, and interviewed Rev. Don Fado of Sacramento and  Rev. Gregory Dell of Chicago, all of whom had officiated at same-sex marriages and faced disciplinary charges.  The climax of her documentary, ironically called “In My Father’s Church,” is her wedding.

The irony is that the wedding was not in her father’s church, but in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Waltham, Massachusetts, on June 23, 2001.  Dick co-officiated with Rev. Joan Saniuk of the Metropolitan Community Church of Boston.  He gave a short spirited sermon with his usual exuberance and vital energy, saying, “This service reminds us and, I must say, reminds the Church, that the Spirit of God moves among us in many different ways and this is one more witness to the presence of God’s Spirit moving among us.”  Then he lovingly administered the vows.  And Charissa King was united with Kelly O’Brien in a joyful ceremony of holy union.  Uncle Dick set the tone of unconditional love.  When Massachusetts later legalized same-sex marriage, Kelly and Charissa obtained a license and had a civil ceremony. Joyce and I are so grateful for Dick’s role in an event that gave us a bright, lovely daughter-in-law and later two beautiful twin granddaughters, Mia and Luna.

Dick Parker knew full well the potential ecclesiastical consequences of his actions.  But his love for Charissa and his passion for always doing justice and the right thing gave him no other alternative.  He would be so proud of the clergy who have said “We do!” and ministered to all God’s children. I am one of many who have since followed in his footsteps. And, at the same time, Dick would still have respect and concern for the “Sauls,” bound by legalism and unbiblical literalism, “still breathing threats.” Dick and Grace would want us all now to get on the road to Damascus.  For we all need a fresh vision of the Risen Lord of amazing Grace, who wants us to love and embrace all our brothers and sisters.  As he said, “What we need now is loving care and respect for each other.”

This fond remembrance is given in loving memory of my dear friend and personal hero, Richard S. Parker, May 29, 1930-July 12, 2011.

Dick Parker was an elder and district superintendent in the New York Annual Conference; he was a founding member of MIND and served on our steering committee. 

Jack King is 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. 

Accountable to God first

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Rev. Andie Raynor

raynor-photoAs I drove to the home where the wedding was to take place, I was a little nervous—not because I was officiating a marriage ceremony between two women, but rather because I had my small children in tow.  And the reason I was nervous about bringing the children had nothing to do with the couple getting married; it had everything to do with the fact that my very active four-year-old son would be unsupervised as I performed the ceremony.  I had visions of him helping himself to cake or tipping over the candles while I was busy being the minister.  Despite my well-founded concerns, Kris and Susan had heartily encouraged me to bring my kids, Cat (6) and Alex (4).  The celebration was to be a relaxed family affair, held in the backyard of the lovely home that they shared with their four children.

“Why aren’t they getting married in a church, Mommy?” asked Cat as we drove.

“Because both of them have been married before and they want to do something different,” I explained.  Although this was true, it wasn’t the whole story.  I thought for a moment, then I continued.  “It’s also because the people getting married are both women and the church won’t let them.”

“Why?” she asked, eyes widening.  “Do they love each other?”

“Yes.”

“Then I don’t understand,” she answered.

Meanwhile, all her brother wanted to know is whether there would be kids to play with and if he could have a “treat.”  I assured him that there would be plenty of both.

This was 1999, and I am staggered to think that little has changed in our ever-changing church.  Kris and Susan had asked me whether I would “get in trouble” for performing the ceremony.  Although marriage equality was yet a distant dream, they had hoped that the church would honor their union, even if the state did not.  I told them that, yes, I could face disciplinary action by officiating but that I felt accountable to God first and foremost.  Refusing to bless their union would mean compromising my understanding of the Divine. What kind of example would this set for my children?  A Gospel of exclusion was not one that I wanted to teach.

The ceremony was heartfelt and beautiful.  Towards the conclusion, Susan’s sister, Marion, read the following:

As the big sister, I have been asked to address you today on behalf of Kris and Susan.  They are two people who have joined their lives because of their unending love and respect for each other.  Today they are surrounded by family and friends, who have shared their home, their love, and their four beautiful kids, many times before.  Today recognizes their partnership and their commitment, which could have been invisible due to its less than traditional nature.  What they have learned by joining together is that, in following their hearts and being honest with their feelings, the path has twists and turns.  They have learned that sometimes you have to take risks to achieve happiness.  Most of all, they have learned their wealth. How rich to be surrounded by children, family and friends who have been so loving, caring and supportive.  How lucky to have found each other, and how incredibly fortunate to have a beautiful day like this to celebrate their vows with all of you.  They thank you from the bottom of their hearts and ask you to join them in some hearty celebration this evening.

As evening descended and the stars appeared, Susan and Kris shared their joy with those assembled.  Their children participated, mine behaved, and we danced in the light of the One who is love, only love.

Andie Raynor is an ordained elder in the New York Annual Conference working in extension ministry at Greenwich Hospice.

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 gay Disney wedding

We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality

By Rev. Ted Gault

gault-photo-2I was a local preacher in a big church in Rochester, Minnesota.  Late one afternoon a couple came into the church office asking to be married that evening.  The pastor was on vacation and the associate pastor had another engagement and so I presided over my first wedding in the near-empty nave of a church that had a resident bat in its belfry. It was July 1951. I have officiated at countless weddings since then, but none was more meaningful or moving to me that that of my grandson 60 years later.

Jonathan was the name I baptized him with, but as time went on he became just plain Jon. He has been an important part of our lives ever since the morning we drove him and his mother home from the hospital. When he was about 10, he was beginning to realize that his view of the world and his place in it was a bit different. My wife suggested to me that Jon was gay and said that she had recognized this in his infancy.  As he grew older in years his self-understanding matured. He went to college in Manhattan and specialized in drama and dance. Meanwhile, we moved to Florida after we retired. In 2007, Jon came to Florida, having been hired by Disney World as an entertainer. He loved the part of the job that included dancing in the daily parades.  But the high moment of his life in these years was his discovery of James.  James worked in the hotel management department of the Disney organization. Jon and James became engaged in July 2008.

It was not too long after this that word began circulating in the family that a wedding was being planned. In due course, Jon came and told me all about the plans.  The wedding would be held on November 3, 2011, during a three-day cruise on a Disney cruise ship, on a beach in the Bahamas – would Grandpa be willing to do the honors? The answer was, “Of course!”

I set about preparing a ceremony appropriate to such and occasion.  The ritual prescribed in the Methodist Book of Worship might be the basis of the service but something more seemed to be called for.  I consulted numerous sources from multiple denominations and when I was done, I sent the draft of the service to the grooms. Jon and James were quite pleased. Now we had only to await the sailing time of the “Disney Dream.”

The plans for the wedding called for the ship to dock at Castaway Key, Disney’s private island, with the ceremony on a beach there that was all prepared for us.  Unfortunately, although the day was clear and warm, the wind had risen during the night before and the sea had become so rough that the captain was unable to dock the ship at the island.  James set about with the appropriate crew members to find an appropriate place to hold the wedding.  They found an ideal lounge high on the ship, with a window across the whole of one side and a marvelous view of the ocean.  James wore a black tuxedo and a white rose while Jon wore a similar white suit and a red rose.  When all were in place the ceremony proceeded as I had planned it.

After the exchange of vows, the grooms holding hands, spoke these words together: “We promise to share with one another the bitter things of life as well as the sweet, to stand together in times of trouble, to help each other, bear each other’s burdens and forgive one another.  We promise to strive against prejudice and misunderstanding, and to seek justice and peace for all people; and, we promise to share with one another the sweet things of life as well as the bitter, to love one another, to enjoy the every-day-ness of our life together, to encourage one another, listen to one another, and to seek forgiveness. We promise to strive for a life of courage, faithfulness, and dignity. In all this we ask God to help and guide us”

Afterwards, we adjourned to a delightful reception with refreshments, dancing and much enjoyment of friends and family too seldom able to be together.  The wedding party included four other dancers from Disney World, and as a wedding present they performed a presentation of one of their dance routines during the reception.

Not long after the wedding James and Jon left Disney and returned to New York. New York State had legalized gay marriage in 2011, and on February 23,2012, Jon and James legalized their union at city hall in New York City.

Edwin (Ted) Gault 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.