- by Rev. Kathryn Johnson -
I don’t know that I have ever officiated at a wedding where the groom cried from the beginning of the ceremony ‘til the end. And to be fair, at this wedding, only one of the two grooms actually cried throughout the entire service. The other groom only cried occasionally getting a little choked up during the vows and shedding some tears during the exchange of rings.
The wedding of David Shumate and Andy Ragland was an incredibly joy-filled celebration of a relationship between two men who have loved one another faithfully and tenderly for 26 years and have longed to have that love recognized by the state and blessed by the church which they have attended and supported all these years.
The Rev. Bruce Robbins and I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of these two precious men on September 1st in the midst of the ChurchQuake convocation sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries Network where over 500 United Methodists gathered for four days in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Performing wedding ceremonies was not the focus of the convocation; indeed, there were only two such services and they were small affairs performed in a lovely outdoor gazebo tucked into a courtyard between the buildings of the center where the convocation took place. The theme of the convocation, “Embracing Freedom”, included a wonderful range of worship services, Bible study, plenary sessions, workshops and visits to sites throughout the Washington area.
Among the things we celebrated was the tide of marriage equality that is sweeping across our country. Since the convocation was being held in Maryland, one of the states where same-sex marriage is now legal, the invitation had gone out to let participants know that if any same-sex couples were interested in exploring having a marriage ceremony while in Maryland they should visit the ChurchQuake website where they would find details concerning appropriate premarital preparations with their pastor, and about securing a Maryland marriage license.
And so it was that David and Andy who had already registered to attend the convocation and who have been part of the Reconciling Movement for years realized that here was an opportunity, after 26 years together, to finally get married and to do so, albeit not with their local church family, with their larger, extended “reconciling church family.” David and Andy had actually applied for a marriage license in West Virginia some years ago and the case made it all the way up to the State Supreme Court before being denied. Arriving in time to qualify for the 48 hour waiting period in Maryland they had no such problem in Maryland.
I could not have been more pleased when I was asked to co-officiate at the wedding. I first met David and Andy 15 years ago when I was serving as the Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and we held a board meeting in their home town of Charleston, West Virginia. We had 50 people on our board at that time, we met for four days, and the local MFSA chapter was expected to house and feed us, no small feat for a small chapter like that in West Virginia! The chapter, including David and Andy, extended amazing hospitality. In addition to feeding and housing us in the homes of church members we were invited to join with members of the church as they participated in a rally at the State House where people were expressing their concern about mountaintop removal mining. As we marched the short distance from the church to the State House I still recall the shouts going up from the crowd that had already gathered. “Here come the Methodists!!” David and Andy were, and continue to be, very active members of the United Methodist Church in Charleston and are very active reaching out and caring about the community around them.
The generosity, hospitality and gentle spirit that I experienced in my first encounter with David and Andy fifteen years ago shone through again as we reunited to plan and then celebrate their wedding. All four of us, David, Andy, Bruce and I could not stop smiling, and yes, crying, throughout the service.
When I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church in 1985 I felt a great sense of unease at holding my clergy orders in a church that openly discriminated against gay and lesbian persons. That unease has grown in intensity over the years and has been agonizing much of the time. When same-sex marriage became legal in the District of Columbia three years ago I joined with a number of other colleagues and lay people in deciding that we could no longer live with that contradiction. With the decision not to discriminate, but to offer to minister equally to all couples prepared to marry, has come an amazing freedom. Indeed, I believe it is with this decision that I have truly and fully accepted the authority that was conferred upon me at the time of my ordination.
In the ordination service the following prayer is said:
Gracious God, give to these your servants the grace and power they need to serve you in this ministry so that your people may be strengthened and your name glorified in all the world.
In David and Andy’s marriage grace abounds. Stepping into the sunlight of openness, God’s people are strengthened. Claiming the power to refuse to discriminate, God’s name is glorified. Thanks be to God.
. . .