A Gift From God’s Own Heart
My path toward officiating at a lesbian wedding started when Hazel, my three-year-old granddaughter, told me that Margot, her nursery school buddy, was lucky because she has two mommies. Not long afterwards the two mommies, Ava and Julie Bartlett, asked me if I would consider officiating at their wedding. I have to admit – confess – that I was pretty anxious about it. And chagrined that I was such a big chicken. Even though I had signed the Covenant of Conscience some months before, I felt it was unlikely that I would actually be asked to do a wedding since I’m not appointed to a parish. I would just support other clergy who were brave enough to act.
I had fought hard for ordination in the 1960s when the very idea of women clergy seemed scandalous and against scripture. So when Ava and Julie called my first impulse was that I didn’t want to jeopardize what seemed like my core identity. But I was also convinced that Ava and Julie were asking me to act on my belief that Christ calls us – me – to stand against injustice. And I knew that as a covenant signer, I had agreed to more than mere support of others. I had promised to provide this ministry myself. I gulped and we set a date to talk.
We met in my office. Margot colored on the floor as they explained that they had been living together for eight years, and had always longed to be married. But a secular marriage would not do for them. They wanted to make their vows before God in a liturgy that was celebrated by the church.
As they talked I was impressed at how mature they were and how solid was their love. They were the rare couple every minister hopes to encounter: a couple who found the sacred vows more important than the party and the clothes. In conscience, I could do no other than go ahead.
The wedding was held in Prospect Park in Brooklyn in October 2012. The day was sunny and warm as we gathered by the boathouse. The congregation numbered about 30 and included mostly families with kids. Ava and Julie wore simple white dresses, and Margot, in her own pretty dress, proudly carried a miniature bouquet that matched those of her mommies.
So a dream was fulfilled. They made their vows to love and cherish each other for life, accompanied by tears and smiles from their friends and relatives. At their request I read 1 Corinthians 13 and gave a short meditation. Partly preaching to myself, here is an excerpt of what I said that day:
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that love is the undergirding gift that trumps everything else. His letter is very clear. Unselfish, sacrificial love is the primary criterion – the best gift – and the one that wins in the end. And of course we are here today because love has won…
The marriage we celebrate today is a radical and wonderful testimony to God’s own desire to give the gift of love, a gift that comes from God’s own heart, a gift that is stronger than prejudice, stronger than societal fears, certainly stronger than any theology that excludes or condemns certain kinds of genuine love.
I had permission to end the sermon by telling everyone a lovely secret. Ava and Julie were pregnant with another child who was already being drawn into the circle of this family’s love. (Little Astrid is now eight months old, and is busy charming everyone she meets.)
The wedding celebration continued at a nearby small Mexican restaurant. As I sat there basking in the hubbub of talk and laughter, holding Hazel on my lap, watching cake-smeared, hyped-up kids running around and Ava and Julie shining like lamps, I felt the simple rightness, the utter congruence of the day. Here was joy and love and church and commitment and fun and blessing. And clearly, undeniably, the presence of God.
Tilda Norberg is an elder in the New York Annual Conference serving in extension ministry at Gestalt Pastoral Care.
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.