“Hey, Pastor Bonnie, this is Beth and Ursula, remember us?” the callers queried.
Well, of course I remembered them. They had been part of my former congregation in the city.
“Seventeen years ago, you made our relationship holy. Now, we hope you’ll make it legal.”
“I’d be honored,” I replied quickly. How could I do otherwise?
I had been to the Chicago Cultural Center for the Governor of Illinois’ signing of the civil union legislation the day before, one of 1200 invitees. While I was seated in the great hall awaiting Governor Quinn, I got an email announcing the release of the Retired Bishops Counsel to the Church. Tears welled in my eyes as surely I was surrounded by the evidence that God was indeed doing a new thing.
Before the prohibition against performing any celebration of a homosexual union was added to the Book of Discipline (1996) and the Judicial Council ruling number 833, which declared that the social principles were in fact law and not simply recommendations, I had celebrated at least a dozen holy unions.
Nearly two decades ago, it was with a bit of poetic defiance and delight that I would raise my hands at the conclusion of the holy union liturgy and proclaim, “And now by no power invested in me by either the church or the state, I pronounce that you are Life Partners. Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
Well, now the state of Illinois grants me power to unite them while The United Methodist Church continues to do what it can to put such love asunder every day. It insists on declaring the fullness of these women’s lives as “incompatible” with Christian teaching. It requires its clergy to dispense their blessing unequally; to deny their pastoral blessing to some of their parishioners.
Together with over 1000 of my United Methodist colleagues, I simply cannot and will not abide by this prescription for discrimination.
Beth and Ursula’s family now includes a son and daughter, a bright and articulate teen and preteen who are loved and cherished and love their mothers in return.
Many of the guests who will attend the upcoming civil union were in attendance at Ursula and Beth’s holy union — parents, siblings, co-workers, and long time friends. Others, community members and parents they’ve met at the kids’ school, will be there, too.
And this time, a generation then yet unborn, will stand by their mothers’ sides. I will stand where I stood then, before those gathered to witness love declared and before our loving God who is bigger than The United Methodist Church.