Each year in mid February, soon after Valentine’s Day, church phones ring and e-mail boxes fill with excited requests to schedule the pastor and sanctuary for weddings in the coming year or two. The same will be true this year.
I always made certain the volunteer receptionist and office staff knew to refer couples to our website, to download the wedding planning packet , before they got the caller’s name and phone number.
In recent years those calls have included same gender callers who, like opposite gender callers, have “popped the question” on Valentine’s Day. In Illinois, Civil Unions became legal in 2011 and marriage equality takes effect June 1, 2014. Same gender marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Committing to An Altar for All, the congregation from which I retired in July,First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights and their pastors, added an inclusive wedding policy.
In the early 1990s (and undoubtedly sooner for some), before we even dared to dream of marriage equality, I and other United Methodist pastors across the country, were officiating at Holy Unions, the non-legal covenant making gay and lesbian couples enacted to celebrate their gift of love and commitment. I confess it was often with a twinkle in my eye I would conclude the ritual with the words ,”and now by no power invested in me by either the State of Illinois or The United Methodist Church, but rather by our God-in-Christ – who is Love and commanded us to love one another, I declare that you are Life Partners in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Let us celebrate !” and the guests, like they do at all weddings, clapped and hooted, as the couple beamed with joy.
Word spread and paragraphs 341.6 and 2702(b) were added to The Book of Discipline because love had captured the imagination of couples and congregations alike. Faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and active members of our churches were speaking their truth and joyfully celebrating their love. Some in the church tried to put an end to it. Their efforts have failed.
Recently couples for whom I officiated over the past two decades, have tracked me down in retirement and privileged me to be the one to “re-do” what was done twenty years ago. We’ve shared old photos and taken new ones. We’ve laughed at how we have all grayed and lamented all that was denied them for far too long.
Well in actuality they and I aren’t now doing anything that isn’t already done. Ursula and Beth did not enter their “union” on May 17, 2012 and Pat and Colleen will not now “get married” on July 5th. They did that years ago when they made promises to share their lives “until death do us part.” They’ve created families, purchased homes, raised children, done meaningful work and served their communities in a myriad of ways. Their “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” has stood the test of time. This reality is now recognized by our state and our nation but woefully continues to be unrecognized by The United Methodist Church.
Many individual United Methodists and Reconciling congregations, finding the denomination’s discriminatory policies and punitive practices untenable, are now not only saying so but choosing to begin, or continue, to act on the calling of Biblical Obedience, extending the full ministry of the church to all people, mirroring the radical hospitality of Jesus. If you and your congregation have not already done so, I encourage you to become an individual Reconciling United Methodist, explore becoming a Reconciling Congregation and declare your commitment to be in ministry to all through An Altar for All. The Reconciling Ministries Network has staff, volunteers and resources to assist you.
Love Hopes All Things,
Rev. Dr. Bonnie Beckonchrist