We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality
By Rev. Ted Gault
I 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.