Dean Wolfe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, and Gail Greenwell, rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in suburban Mission, Kan., had just completed a rehearsal for the very first "Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant" ceremony to be done in the diocese.
At that moment, Kirk, one of the partners to be blessed, said, "The only thing that feels weird. . .", at which point his partner Doug interrupted to say, "The whole thing doesn't feel weird?"
And we all laughed. (The top photo here shows Kirk and Doug at the rehearsal facing, from left to right, Gail Greenwell, Dean Wolfe, Archdeacon Monte Giddings and the Rev. Lisa Senuta, all of whom participated in the service. The photo at left shows Gail Greenwell and the one at right shows Bishop Wolfe.)
Sometimes, indeed, it does feel a bit weird when you are blessed to be present for a moment when history turns on an axis, when something shifts in the universe, when what could not happen before now can happen, when we cross a line in the sand that no longer exists.
Doug and Kirk are part of a long-time church-based study group that includes my wife and me. When last year the Episcopal Church finally approved a liturgy of blessing for same-sex couples, they knew their long wait (they've been a couple for more than 22 years) finally was over.
So they arranged to be the first couple in their diocese to experience this new ritual. In the ceremony there is a role for people called "presenters." Doug and Kirk chose members of our study group to be presenters, along with their mothers and siblings.
We presenters had to say two words -- "we do" -- in response to these questions:
* Who presents Doug and Kirk, who seek the blessing of God and the Church on their love and life together?
* Do you promise to love, respect and pray for Doug and Kirk and to do all in your power to stand with them in the life they will share?
Saying "we do" was easy. Doug and Kirk are fabulous people. And they were willing to remain in the Episcopal Church struggling for justice and equality even when the church refused to bless their union. Yes, they had allies, especially people like Larry Bingham, another member (with his wife) of our study group who has pushed the church to come to this decision for years.
It was a joyful ceremony, full of applause and laughter and tears and all that such rituals should be. At the same time, I felt a sense of sadness that my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has not yet created a similar liturgy that would allow our clergy to lead such blessings on behalf of the church.
Oh, we Presbyterians now can ordain otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians to ministry, but we cannot formally bless same-sex unions. It's my belief -- always subject to revision -- that my church thus still is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Bible. (For my essay on what the Bible says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
In her sermon, Gail Greenwell said what one day some Presbyterian pastors will need to say at similar ceremonies: "I apologize on the church's behalf that we have come so late to this party." And she properly called it "a day of dreams come true for those who love the church itself."
The ceremony was rich with beautiful liturgical language that placed what we were doing in the context of Christian faith. And it was full of gorgeous music, some especially written for this occasion.
In the end, it was exactly what the church should be doing to honor love, promote commitment and bless the lives of its members. It's what our civil authorities should be doing, too, as President Obama said in this inaugural address yesterday: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
My prayer is that not too many years from now such ceremonies will be common across the Christian church (and, indeed, all communities of faith), as we recognize that for reasons none of us may understand very well, not all of God's children are heterosexual but they all are, nonetheless, God's children and, thus, worthy of equal dignity and respect. In the Christian tradition, we would say that they also are people for whom Christ died. You may call that weird if you like; I call it a blessing.
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PRAYING AT A PUBLIC EVENT
Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, found a good way to end her inaugural prayer yesterday by praying "in Jesus' name and the name of all who are holy and right." It can be tricky to pray at a public event. When I'm asked to do it I usually end by praying "in all the names by which we know you" or, closer to Evers-Williams, by using this language, "I pray this in Jesus name but we pray this in all the names by which we know you." That lets me be true to my own tradition while respecting the tradition of others. Seems simple enough.
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P.S.: I hope you'll consider coming to a weekend seminar on the risks of forgiveness that I'll co-lead with Doug Hundley April 26-28 at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania. For all the details, click here. And pass it along to folks you think might be interested.