Nothing Could Match the Beauty of the Church Service
By Rev. John Collins
Peggy Borgstede and Kathy Green met at a cocktail party for gay women in 1995. It was love at first sight. They lived together in a committed relationship for eight years, with Peggy sharing in the care of Kathy’s son Jeffery, who has cerebral palsy. Kathy was Roman Catholic and Peggy had grown up Methodist. Looking for a Methodist church, they visited Memorial UMC where they met Pastor Joe Agne. Soon they joined the church and became active. In the fall of 2003 they asked Joe if he would do a holy union commitment service, as same-sex marriage was still illegal in New York State. Such a service had never been done at Memorial – it was before we began the process of becoming a welcoming church. When Joe preached on the subject there was opposition and several families left the church.
Wishing to avoid a church trial if possible, we decided to hold the ceremony on the church lawn, on the strip of land belonging to the city of White Plains, followed by communion in the chapel, celebrated by Joe. Peggy picks up the story here:
“On September, 20, 2003 Kathy Green, my partner, and I celebrated our eight years together with a covenant ceremony at Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, NY. We were members at Memorial and active in church affairs. Our minister, Joe Agne, was a supporter of gay rights and when we approached him, he agreed to arrange the ceremony in spite of objections by some members of the congregation. Our ceremony was held on the beautiful lawn of Memorial under a spreading tree. Rev. John Collins presided with Rev. Taka Ishii from Metropolitan-Duane UMC in New York City. After the ceremony, we moved to the chapel, where Rev. Agne gave communion to us and our guests. This day lives in our memory as a most special occasion and 10 years to the day later, September 20, 2013, we were married in a civil service at the White Plains courthouse. But nothing could match the beauty of our service at Memorial!”
In the weeks that followed, several members left the church and others filed a complaint with Bishop Ernest Lyght, who dismissed the complaint saying that faithful United Methodist ministry was being offered at MUMC and this was a matter to be taken up with the pastor. The service and its aftermath put Memorial firmly on the path to our inclusive membership of today and our active engagement in the struggle to bring the UMC into the 21th century.
Postscript: Peggy and Kathy left Memorial about a year after the covenant ceremony for personal reasons. Just last year, on the tenth anniversary of their service, they returned. Peggy is now co-guardian with Kathy of Jeffrey. In Peggy’s words, “We returned because we admire the courage of this church.” We hope they will stay for many years!
John Collins is minister for church and world at Memorial UMC.
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.