Not Participating in This Joyful Day Would Have Been Unthinkable
By Rev. Scott Summerville
When I was appointed to Asbury Crestwood United Methodist Church in the year 2000, I was greeted officially by the SPRC chair, Manny Meli. His welcome was warm and gracious, and he represented the congregation so thoughtfully as it emerged from a time of significant challenges. As I perused the official records of the church I saw Manny’s name in so many places – as treasurer, as lay leader, as chairperson of the Council on Ministries, as a gifted singer, and as youth advisor. Shortly before my arrival in Crestwood, Manny’s wife, Lee, had died after a long struggle with cancer. His mother, Josephine, was a longtime member of the church, and his daughter, Melissa, had grown up in the congregation and been part of Sunday school, junior choir, and the youth fellowship. Each member of this wonderful family was loved, admired, and treasured by the congregation.
Fast forward eleven years. Manny’s mother had passed away; his daughter was off in search of fame and fortune in the theater. And Manny had long since come out as gay. His sexual orientation was never an issue for our congregation. I had made clear early in my ministry at Asbury, and well before Manny’s coming out, that sexual orientation played no part in my pastoral decisions, so when Manny fell in love and made plans for his wedding to Ron Verblaauw, it was the most natural thing in the world and a real joy to me to participate in that ceremony and to celebrate their wedding at Asbury Church on August 20, 2011. I was not the preacher for the day, but I did get a few words in, including the following:
“Ron, Manny, and all your family and friends: welcome to this place. I extend greetings to you on behalf of the entire congregation of Asbury United Methodist Church. We are here today for a reunion as well as a union. Manny, your roots go deep in this church. You gave to this church extraordinary service through your music, through your financial acumen, but more important by your wisdom, your gentleness, your deep commitment, and your leadership.
“This is the place where the ashes of your wife, Lee, your father, Salvatore, and your mother, Josephine, are interred. Opposite the niche where their ashes lie is a wooden bench given by your family in memory of Lee. The other day someone said to me, ‘Pastor that bench in the columbarium is in terrible shape; it needs to be fixed and painted.’ I went out and looked at that bench, with its untreated wood weathering over the years, moss growing on it here and there, and I thought it was very beautiful. As a matter of fact it has acquired that ineffable quality that the Japanese call ‘wabi.’ So we have not painted that bench; it will continue to be there, aging along with the rest of us.
“Manny, a few years back, a man came and took you away from us. His name was Ron, and you were in love. Now you have brought him back here, because your love has grown and ripened and you and have chosen to commit yourselves to one another for all your days. We are grateful that you are here and that we can share this sacred moment with you.”
It was indeed a joyful day, and not to have participated in it as pastor of this family’s church would have been unthinkable. Manny and Ron’s wedding was the first same-sex ceremony performed at Asbury Crestwood United Methodist Church. It was not the last. There will be more, because our congregation, our members individually, and our clergy have declared:
“We refuse to discriminate in the sacraments and rituals provided to our members and pledge the full and equal use of our facilities as we welcome and celebrate equally all couples and the families they may choose to create.”
Scott Summerville is pastor at Asbury Crestwood United Methodist Church.
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.