Friday, November 14, 2008

“Let no one put asunder”

Reflections on the sanctity of marriage
Zelda Kennedy, Wilma Jakobsen, Abel Lopez, Susan Russell, Ed Bacon

For 140 days -- from June 17th - November 4th -- at All Saints Church in Pasadena the clergy had the extraordinary privilege of presiding at a total of 43 weddings of same-sex couples.

The cover of this week's Saints Alive ... our weekly parish newsletter ... featured our collective reflections about our experiences during that joyful window of opportunity to celebrate marriage equality. Enjoy!


[Zelda] The call came into my office the day before same-sex marriages were legal in California. The caller was Mel White, who was on a plane returning to Los Angeles from Europe. He would only be in Los Angeles for as long as it would take for him to marry his partner of 27 years, Gary Nixon. He asked if we would do the ceremony since All Saints was their former church home, continues to be their spiritual home base, and because marriage was not legal in his home state. Of course I said, “Yes!” – grateful that because we suspected we might become inundated with requests to perform same-sex marriages, we had already established guidelines to assist us in ministering to couples outside the Diocese of Los Angeles and the state of California.

Little did we know between this first marriage, held on June 18th and the last on November 3rd we would conduct 43 ceremonies - each uniquely different, each divinely blessed and each wonderfully incredible. Although the couples had distinctive relationships, they all had one thing in common, love - loving each other in relationships that ranged from 7 years to as many as 42 years.

[Wilma] The simple privilege of entering into people's lives at a moment when they made their long-term commitment public was profound. When the season started back in June, I was away in South Africa, and part of my trip involved inquiring how my participation in same sex marriages here might or might not affect my status in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Though no clear answer emerged, I came back peacefully resolved to marry any couples who asked me to do so, and that I would deal with any consequences, if and when the issue emerged in the future.

Though I missed the excitement of the very first weddings, I was thrilled to be asked to participate in three couple's weddings - with all of whom I had deep and long standing pastoral relationships. Their children participated in the weddings in integral ways, so that we were not only blessing couples but also families. Each time I was so moved by the couples, their families and friends, their support, their joy, their blessing, the goodness and rightness of what it was we were doing.

I believe God has smiled on all these marriages and on us. I believe God cries with us as the passing of Proposition 8 shows us that the politics of fear and exclusion have temporarily triumphed over the politics of love. But this I know - that faith, hope and love always endure, and the greatest of these is love.

[Abel] They were standing just in front of me, ready to say their wedding vows when the sudden mystery of love began to unfold before my eyes. Their promises, their dreams, their hopes, all of their words thoughtfully chosen for the occasion; mastered to summarize the essence of their love and commitment. Then I remembered this quote from Amy Tan: I am like a falling star who has finally found her place next to another in a lovely constellation, where we will sparkle in the heavens forever.

And I asked myself, what can I do, but open myself to that mystery, to that encounter with eternity and feel in the deepest place of my soul that I, simply a priest, am about to minister the sacrament of marriage to two beautiful creatures of God in this vast universe.

[Susan] It is always a deep joy and amazing privilege to be invited into the profound intimacy of two beloveds making their love tangible in vows professed and rings exchanged in the sight of God and of the community gathered. Over the last 140 days, as couples invited us into that holy space with them, their joy was often accompanied by a sense of urgency. And that urgency included a pinch of anxiety labeled “Proposition 8” -- giving the traditional words from the marriage vows, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder” new power.

As we write, the provisional and absentee ballots are still being counted but it looks as though the effort to write discrimination into our constitution will pass. That does not mean it will succeed. Those whom God has joined together remain joined together – in the sight of God and of All Saints Church – as we redouble our efforts to fight for the dignity of every human being and to speak for liberty and justice for all.

And while I am confident we will succeed in the end, I am haunted today by a voice mail I received the day after the election from someone named Jason. “We were getting married next month,” he said voice full of pain, “And now I feel like I want to die. My life has been stolen from me and I just don’t understand it.” My only answer was to stand with Jason in his pain the way we stood with Mel and Gary – and Bear and Susan, and Joe and Joey, Richard and Chris, and all the others in their joy. All Saints’ witness to God’s love made tangible in these marriages and in this struggle is another example of grace in action, as we continue to work with God to turn this human race into the human family it was meant to be.

[Ed] It has never seemed fair that I could legally marry my best friend who is the love of my life, who is a person of the opposite sex, while those who love someone of the same sex cannot marry the love of their lives. That justice issue drove me to say yes to the Rector’s Search Committee in 1995 when they posed the question to me, “If we were chose you as the next rector of All Saints, would you continue our practice of blessing same-sex unions?” Rich Llewellyn and Chris Caldwell were the first same-gender couple I blessed back then. Rich and Chris were among the almost 20 couples I married in this recent historic period between June 17 and November 3, 2008.

Although each of these couples was unique in personality, I nevertheless was deeply moved by the commonalities they shared.

1. “God has made us fall in love, it’s true.” Stevie Wonder. These couples chose to have their marriages take place in the church because they made the “faith connection” between the Love that had overpowered and brought them to this commitment and God, the Author of that Love. They were giving thanks to God for their love and they were giving thanks IN their church where making love tangible is our mission. In fact one couple asked if the Stevie Wonder song could be sung in their service as a way to express this “faith connection.” They had walked the journey of knowing that love is the greatest power in the world, that it overcomes fear, and produces forgiveness and healing, and that it was the dynamic that had brought them to their wedding.

2. “Love is not envious, proud, boastful, rude, or self-serving.” (1 Cor. 13) Each of these couples brought profound emotional maturity to their wedding. They were grown-ups, not doing something impulsively. They had known many “Good Fridays” in their relationship but they had known even more “Easter Sundays.” Their relationships had already been refined of the kind of pettiness and egocentrism that often destroys marriages. Each of us who officiated at these weddings stepped into a universe of grown-up love.

3. “When Ruth and Naomi came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of their love.” (Ruth 1: 19) Those wedding guests who gathered as witnesses to these marriages testified in every instance of how the love between those two had spilled over to make those around them have better lives. Many of them have children (in some instances adult children who are making significant contributions to society). All of their relationships had borne spiritual fruitfulness in their wider families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and faith communities.

All of these reasons, and many more, made the past four historic months a season of pastoral liturgies we will never forget. We wanted in this essay to express that these weddings have profoundly ministered to the spiritual journeys of the staff priests of All Saints Church. They have taught us more deeply than ever before that as long as we choose the power of love over fear, God will empower, uphold, and console us to spread the dynamics of God’s house of love throughout the entire human family.



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Just profound, deep, amazing gratitude for your courage, your witness, you joy at our joy and your sorrow at our sorrow.

You all stand at that crucified place of despair and hope. I couldn't ask for better company.

Thank you.

Yard[D]og said...

This is a wonderful collection ... thanks for sharing it!

Ellie Finlay said...

Wilma! How wonderful to see you here! And how is it that we have managed to lose touch with each other? Please, please email me. I'm at the same old email address (although my street address and phone number have changed) and if you've lost that, you can find it on my profile page.

Lots and lots of love to you!

Sandy said...

I want to express my thanks for the messages in this post. What an amazing thing it is to read these words of encouragement and validation from members of the cergy who truly get it.

Sometimes the journey is hard. The last couple of weeks have been really hard. For my spouse and me, who are very isolated where we live, it has been a profoundly centering experience to be able to come to this blog every day and feel that we aren't alone, that there are others who know what we're feeling, and who continue to stand with us.

It was so worth the hour plus drive to worship at All Saints this morning!