We Did: Stories of United Methodists living marriage equality
by Rev. Jack King, in honor of his late friend Rev. Richard S. Parker
Richard S. Parker held her tenderly in his arms and looked into her eyes as he lifted one hand to her head and said, “Charissa Elizabeth, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.” Flash forward 29 years.
Richard S. Parker looked into her eyes as he asked, “Do you, Charissa, take Kelly, to be your wife….” Dick Parker’s officiating at a same-sex marriage was not simply an act of conscience, of non-compliance with a discriminatory provision in the United Methodist Discipline. It was also a loving response to a simple request, “Uncle Dick, will you do our wedding?”
Dick and I became fast friends and associates in 1969 at Trinity UMC in Poughkeepsie. When Joyce and I had our first child in 1972, Dick not only baptized her but took the whole visiting family on a sailing trip on the Hudson River. Debbie Parker, their daughter, with one letter had changed the name of their boat, “Charisma,” to “Charissa” for the occasion.
While our professional paths parted in 1973, our families’ friendship continued. Holiday dinners, summer sails, phone calls…two families bonded together. When Charissa came out she knew she could count on the loving support of “Auntie Grace” and “Uncle Dick.” Table conversations over the years made clear where they stood on issues of justice and equality and their opposition to homophobia, racism, sexism and greed.
Before the General Conference of 2000, Grace Parker had written to several of the delegates expressing her pain over “the rejection of God's children by persons who call themselves Christian.” She called on them to “return to the Wesleyan tradition of inclusiveness and service to those treated as marginal in our society.”
At that same General Conference, Dick Parker rose and made a motion for General Conference to declare a moratorium on current language regarding homosexuality to allow a quadrennium of healing and discernment in the life of the church. "We've had enough pain today around these issues. ... What we need now is loving care and respect for each other," he said After another delegate objected, the motion was defeated 637 to 320.
Charissa King was filming a documentary at the 2000 General Conference about the discriminatory legislative acts against LGBT members of the church. She also documented the trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, and interviewed Rev. Don Fado of Sacramento and Rev. Gregory Dell of Chicago, all of whom had officiated at same-sex marriages and faced disciplinary charges. The climax of her documentary, ironically called “In My Father’s Church,” is her wedding.
The irony is that the wedding was not in her father’s church, but in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Waltham, Massachusetts, on June 23, 2001. Dick co-officiated with Rev. Joan Saniuk of the Metropolitan Community Church of Boston. He gave a short spirited sermon with his usual exuberance and vital energy, saying, “This service reminds us and, I must say, reminds the Church, that the Spirit of God moves among us in many different ways and this is one more witness to the presence of God’s Spirit moving among us.” Then he lovingly administered the vows.
And Charissa King was united with Kelly O’Brien in a joyful ceremony of holy union. Uncle Dick set the tone of unconditional love. When Massachusetts later legalized same-sex marriage, Kelly and Charissa obtained a license and had a civil ceremony. Joyce and I are so grateful for Dick’s role in an event that gave us a bright, lovely daughter-in-law and later two beautiful twin granddaughters, Mia and Luna.
Dick Parker knew full well the potential ecclesiastical consequences of his actions. But his love for Charissa and his passion for always doing justice and the right thing gave him no other alternative. He would be so proud of the clergy who have said “We do!” and ministered to all God’s children. I am one of many who have since followed in his footsteps. And, at the same time, Dick would still have respect and concern for the “Sauls,” bound by legalism and unbiblical literalism, “still breathing threats.” Dick and Grace would want us all now to get on the road to Damascus. For we all need a fresh vision of the Risen Lord of amazing Grace, who wants us to love and embrace all our brothers and sisters. As he said, “What we need now is loving care and respect for each other.”
This fond remembrance is given in loving memory of my dear friend and personal hero, Richard S. Parker, May 29, 1930-July 12, 2011.
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Dick Parker was an elder and district superintendent in the New York Annual Conference; he was a founding member of MIND and served on our steering committee.
Jack King is 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.