The Wednesday blogger has been delinquent the last couple of weeks. Things at church have been a bit of a whirlwind, and the Daily Cup became the thing I intended to get to, but didn’t, in order to keep the day within a twenty-four hour span. But in light of yesterday, and what happened in our country, I thought I’d “atone” by offering a post today.
I had been in New Jersey about six months when same-gender unions became legal, and I participated in my first union blessing some time after that. It was a bit of shotgun wedding. One of the brides was in spiritual direction with me. She wanted to be ordained, and her bishop told her that if she wanted to be a minister of God, she needed to live her life in conformity with scripture, and that meant marrying the partner she’d been with for more than a decade (because now, she could). She was indignant about this high-handed interference in her personal life, and I couldn’t keep a straight face. I started laughing, and when she asked why, I said, “They’re treating you just like anyone else!” She started to laugh, too.
When the day came, I was curious. I had long believed that gay and lesbian people should have the right to marry. When I was considering whether to be baptized, I was torn between my own deep conviction that Jesus was God, and my heritage as a Jew whose ancestors had been killed by Christians. And so I was stuck: wanting to be a disciple, not knowing how to become part of a church that had so long showed its darkest side to my own people.
One of the things that swayed me was the strong witness that Episcopalian Christians were making in welcoming gay and lesbian persons into their congregations. The AIDS crisis was raging, and men were dying alone without even their families being willing to claim them as kin, but this group of Christians was bringing them food and bathing their sores and marching in pride parades and claiming that God’s kingdom would not be complete until every person — every person — had been gathered into the fold of grace. And I realized that these Episcopalians were really trying to be a church that was held together by the love of Christ, rather than by demonizing someone as “other,” the outsider it was OK to hate. In such a church, perhaps even a Jew could find a home.
When I was still in Los Angeles, I had helped count the votes at our Diocesan Convention when we refused to treat our brothers and sisters as second-class Christians. I was proud of that vote, proud even when it elicited condemnation from around the Anglican Communion. In Alabama, I had tried to witness to our common humanity. Marriage wasn’t even on the table there; the argument was that gay and lesbian people should be welcome in our churches, and should not be assaulted on our streets. But, still, I had never seen a wedding like this one. How would I react, when the abstract idea of equality became incarnate?
The day began with a major fit of nerves on the part of one of the brides. Never mind the fact that they had been together almost as long as I had been legally able to drink: these vows were a serious commitment. They had the capacity to change everything, to move their relationship to a whole new place.
But when we got into the little country church, with golden morning light streaming through the windows, that room began to fill with a quiet joy. You could almost hear it: the rightness of these two women being together, in that place, for that purpose, with all their family and friends. The preacher (who was famous) preached a beautiful sermon; the brides exchanged vows and rings; and then three clergy, together, raised our hands and blessed them.
The thing was: it all felt so normal. A wedding, like any other. The only strange moment came right after the blessing, when the preacher said, “The peace of the Lord be with you,” and the brides, who had attended church almost every day of their lives, immediately began shaking hands with us, with their family, with their guests, as the priests looked on, bemused. Finally, I snagged one of them on the shoulder and stage-whispered, “You’re supposed to kiss each other.”
And so the sacrament ended in laughter: the laughter of good people who were finally able to have a day in church that was not just about God, not just about community, but was also about them. About them, beloved children of God, with all the mess that implies, and all the beauty. All the beauty.