I Was Sure I Was a Real Part of the Ministry of Jesus Christ
By Rev. Kenneth Prill
What began as a weekend barbeque in my cousin Joann’s back yard culminated a little over a year later in one of the most Spirit-filled, love-confirming and ordination-fulfilling events of my entire thirty-two years of pastoral ministry. Joy Lynne Magill and Jo Ann Cannisi were very good friends of my cousin Joann Spencer since their days in high school. They had been invited, along with my wife Sylvia and me, to Joann’s afternoon barbeque. I knew that Joy and Jo Ann were lesbian, and had been in a loving, committed relationship for quite some time. Their excitement regarding the discussion and debate in the New York State legislature about what would become the Marriage Equality Act completely enveloped them. “When it becomes legal that same-sex couples can marry, would you marry us, Ken?” they asked. Without thinking twice, I said, “Provided you’ll go through some grueling pre-marital counseling sessions with me just like any other couple, I’m in!”
The Marriage Equality Act (thank God!) passed both houses of the New York legislature, and was signed into law by Gov. Mario Cuomo on June 24, 2011. The anticipated telephone call from Joy and Jo Ann came almost immediately. A schedule of pre-marital counseling sessions was set, with the ceremony to take place on October 2, 2011. I was determined to treat them as any other loving couple coming to me to be married, as I had with over 100 couples before them. Their ceremony would be as special as I could make it for them, yet it would be in many ways as common as all the other marriages of which I was privileged to have been a part.
October 2 seemed to come quickly, and there we were on the roof of Vetro Catering in Howard Beach, Queens. As the ceremony began on that cool evening, it started to rain. With umbrellas opened we began, but not even a hurricane could have dampened the spirits and the Spirit that day. My only adjustment to the liturgy was a shorter sermon! We were all in God’s presence and struck by this momentous event, and I was absolutely sure that I was a real part of the ministry of Jesus Christ. It was a glorious celebration of life and love, as it should have been. We laughed and we cried for joy and for Joy (and Jo Ann)—God was so happy!
Progress is often extremely slow in the world around us, and certainly within the United Methodist Church. Many positions formerly taken by so-called “conservatives” within our denomination and even within our New York Conference have been rightfully banished to the dustbin of history and forever eliminated from our thinking and practice. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the discriminatory, hurtful, exclusionary and unchristian practices against our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender brothers and sisters will also go the way of so many other formerly accepted ways of bigoted behavior. If science tells us that our sexuality is determined by genetic and hormonal factors beyond our control, then it follows that our sexuality (whatever and whichever it is) is a gift from God—and should not be condemned, not merely accepted and condoned, but celebrated along with God’s other gifts!
To that end, I echo what the late Rev. Richard Parker, a founding MIND steering committee member and my first district superintendent, told the New York Times once: “Those of us who support full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons are not interested in backing off!”
Kenneth Prill 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.