Yes, I officiated a same-sex covenant ceremony. Yes, I would do it again.By Joanna Harader
Almost two years ago, I received a tentative email from a young woman asking if she could have her upcoming wedding at our church. She and her fiancée were Christian. They wanted a church wedding, and a friend had told her that she might be able to get married at Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan.
And by the way, in case I hadn’t figured it out by the names, she was a woman. So was her fiancée.
Our church publicly states that “we welcome into the full life of the church” a broad range of people, including people of diverse sexual orientations. Our church also has a building use policy, which I sent to the young woman. I said I would want to be in touch with the minister who was officiating the ceremony.
Turns out the couple did not have a minister to officiate the ceremony. They couldn’t find a minister in their town who was willing to do it. Would I be willing?
I said what I say to couples who ask me to officiate weddings: This will be a Christian ceremony. You will need to attend pre-marital counseling sessions. Let’s meet and talk and see if this will work.
The ensuing counseling sessions, which the couple faithfully drove into Lawrence to attend, looked pretty much like other premarital counseling sessions I’ve led. Except the part where I had to explain that this ceremony would not be legally binding. Except the part where I asked what Christian community they planned to be part of as a married couple, and they said, “We quit going to any of the churches in our town because we were tired of pretending to be roommates.”
I proceeded to officiate the covenant ceremony with the support of my congregation. It was an honor for me to bear witness to the love these women had for each other. I believe my ministry with these women was a faithful expression of my calling as a pastor. It was an opportunity to open the church doors wide, to practice hospitality, to encourage human love and faithfulness, to lift up the oppressed and promote justice.
Not everyone agrees with my assessment of the situation.
My credentials have been reviewed and upheld by the Leadership Commission of the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. There were dissenting opinions, but I am still an ordained Mennonite pastor. That decision came down more than a year ago. I have since moved on with my ministry, fielding only the very occasional phone calls from concerned Mennonites who want to talk about “what I did.” Most days I just pray and study scripture and plan worship and write sermons and offer pastoral care and don’t get anywhere near a gay wedding.
Then, a couple of days before my sabbatical began, I received a phone call from our conference minister. He wanted to let me know about two resolutions that would be coming to the delegate floor at the Western District Conference Assembly this summer. The email containing the resolutions was going out later that day to all WDC pastors and churches.
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