I have worked for churches all of my adult life, and whether I was leading worship or simply attending a wedding I have heard the words, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” at weddings countless times.
However, growing up in the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church I didn’t think I would hear these words in reference to me.
So many doors were closed, and so many harmful messages were spewed in my direction regarding me and those in the LGBTQ community being damaged, sinful, or “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Through all of this there are also those individuals in the church who show me the true face of Christ’s love.
They say that they love me for who I am, they affirm my call to ordained ministry, and they want to welcome both me and my partner fully into the life and ministry of the church.
After my partner, Jonathan, and I were engaged to be married, he knew that my denomination was highly important to me. I wanted to ask that The United Methodist Church, into which we were both baptized, where I continued to work, and to which I have devoted my ministry, bless our marriage.
However, officiating a same-sex wedding is still a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy.
For this reason, asking a United Methodist pastor to officiate our wedding became a stressful task, not just for me, but for whoever this pastor would be.
On October 26, 2013 I attended the wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince at Covenant Community United Church of Christ in Center Point, Alabama, officiated by Bishop Melvin Talbert. It was here that I saw United Methodist clergy from around the connection stand in support, and I heard a United Methodist bishop say that the wedding of these two men was “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
With an episcopal leader of our denomination willing to stand for justice, I asked my friend, Laura, if she would officiate the wedding of Jonathan and me. She didn’t hesitate to say yes!
So, after over a year and lots of planning later Jonathan and I stood together in Westfield UCC, where he is the pastor, and made a covenant with God and each other to love each other forever.
There Laura said those amazing words about Jonathan and me.
She said that this was “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” and it was! It wasn’t just us there. God showed up in that moment!! I looked around that sanctuary and the pastor of my church was there with two retired clergy members as well. Local clergy from various denominations were present with so many of our friends and family.
I must admit that when Laura addressed the congregation and asked, “Do you, as people of God, pledge your support and encouragement to the covenant commitment that Greg and Jonathan are making together? If so, please say, ‘We do.’” I held my breath for a moment to see if people really would say that they would support us, and they did!
So, in the presence of all our friends and family, all the clergy and laity present, Laura said, “Now that Jonathan and Greg have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands, and the giving and receiving of rings, I announce that they are married with the blessing of Christ’s church.”
The feeling of support and affirmation is like nothing I can explain.
There are many other people in our church who deserve that opportunity to experience this affirmation.
We make vows to our members at baptism that speak of Christ’s reconciling love. We say, “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ.”
It is our responsibility to call The United Methodist Church back to its baptismal vows. We are all one in Christ Jesus and that includes the LGBTQ persons in our midst. Because we are all one we all deserve the ministries of the Church equally.
It is time to take a stand, to use our voices, and to bring the Church to a higher calling.
Tell your friends about the work of Reconciling Ministries Network, and together we can make The United Methodist Church into what God would truly have it be.
Presbyterian Church in America