We Did: Stories of United Methodists living Biblical Obedience and marriage equality
By Rev. Toby Gould
The two honorary uncles of our teenage children were Dewey and Larry. The remarkable couple, known internationally in their respective fields, became part of our family during those crucial years of growth and exploration for both Bryan and Susan. As music director at the church I served, Dewey taught me respect and appreciation of gay people's perspectives.
During the early 90s, as the United Methodist Church increased its discrimination against the LGBT community, I decided quietly that if asked to bless the union of two LGBT folks, I would do this in the same way I would for heterosexual people, that is, with love and hope for their committed future. I knew that this would put my ordination at risk. Ethics demanded that risk.
Twelve years ago, Cheryl, who had served as director of Christian education at the church we both served, and Marsha, who was a national UMC staff person, asked me to officiate at their service to bless their union. My reaction was two-fold. First, I was honored to be asked as I knew their decision to have such a service was rooted in deeply held faith and to be asked to participate touched me deeply. Second, I knew that my previous silent affirmation was now put to the test.
Fortunately, both Cheryl and Marsha knew what they wanted to do to prepare for their service of commitment and how that service would run. We met to talk about relationship, faith and community as we prepared together for their special day. In a kind but firm way, they showed me what they needed to say to each other to dedicate their lives one to another.
This dedication was not without cost. In making an announcement of their commitment to each other in a private ceremony amongst friends, they both risked a future working in the church at any level.
The service at Bear Mountain Park on a cold May day was beautiful. After exchanging vows, Cheryl sang a song of love to Marsha that brought tears to many eyes. For the first time in 30 years of officiating at life-changing events, I was nervous! If my ordination was to remain unchallenged, all of these family, friends and colleagues would need to celebrate that day and not share details of the event outside that caring community. This came to mind as my mouth became dry and I misspoke Marsha's name. Smiles from the couple and friends allowed me to take a deep breath and carry on.
Following this service, the forces of darkness did their worst to find out who led this service so that they could punish and publish. No one ever let on. Ironically, I only found out that the statute of limitations had run out after joining MIND.
Marsha and Cheryl are a happy and committed couple whose Facebook pages are full of their busy lives. As soon as the possibility was available, they married legally in California in 2008.
All of us continue to work to create a just and loving church.
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Ivan "Toby" Gould is a retired elder in the New York Annual Conference.
We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here. We invite you to submit your own story to We Did.