Kathryn and Kate stood before me—one in a white dress and the other in a pin-striped suit and tie, and both wearing black, converse high-tops. I looked at them, my vision beginning to blur; they stared at me, their eyes pooling with tears.
“I now declare that you are wife and wife,” my voice cracked as I spoke, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I took a breath, composing myself. “And what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” Then they kissed and we partied—eating and drinking and dancing as we celebrated the newlyweds.
Later that evening, when I got home, I sent an email to the ecclesial authorities in my judicatory, providing them with official notice of what I had done—an act that they considered a violation of their heterosexual boundaries for marriage. A few days later my bishop visited me, informing me of the suspension of my ordination and outlining the disciplinary process—one that will most likely result in the termination of my status as a Mennonite minister. After his visit, I began to feel the weight of what I had done, of what it meant to break an ecclesial law. So I walked and prayed, tracing memories from one past self to the next, piecing together experiences and thoughts, fragments that have coalesced into who I am now: a pastor willing to risk ordination in order to bear witness to God’s affirmation of a couple’s love.
I remembered the Spanish epithets, like jota, maricón that I learned as a child—the words we whispered to each other when we passed by someone who didn’t fit our heterosexist gender categories, names we called people behind their backs. I remembered friends in high school, in college, in seminary—gay and lesbian friends, who let me be part of their lives, even as I was trying to sort out my homophobia. I remembered when a man from my church told me—as we were eating tacos—that after decades of raising kids with his wife, after years of devouring Evangelical “reparative” therapy self-help books, after living a lie for far too long, he was finally able to hope that the goodness of God might be in his gay desire. Tears welled up in his eyes. My chin quivered.
Tonight, if you came to my house, and if we stayed up late enough, at some point I would put down my glass and walk over to the shelves and pull out one of James Alison’s books. I’d start with On Being Liked, flipping through the pages, looking for my pencil markings, reading to you passage after passage, words that have become part of me, sentences that have drawn me into visions of God, into ways of seeing God that have transfigured how I understand human beings—myself and others, gay and straight, trans and bi, a range of sexual desire, all that God has created as good. “God likes us. All of us.” I’d read from the book in my hand as you sat on the couch.
I’d give you as much of James Alison as you’d let me because he’s been my midwife, at my side, helping me breathe and push my way into a gospel unbound from heteronormative taboos. Alison calls this process an “undergoing”—“a happening erupting into and upon the world.” In another book on my shelf, Alison describes this “undergoing” as “something outside of [our] control,” as “being possessed by a truthfulness.”
That’s what has happened to me over the years. It is what led up to the marriage blessing I offered to Kathryn and Kate. I was possessed by a truthfulness when I pronounced them wife and wife—a truth about God, about God’s affirmation of gay desire, about how queer love flows with divine love.
So far, here, I keep on writing “I”—for example, I was possessed by a truth—but I should be writing “we.” The past three years has been a season of conversation and discernment in our congregation, a communal “undergoing of divine things.” We have been possessed by the Holy Spirit. We have experienced a happening of God, our imagination has been renewed by the mind of Christ, leading us to offer marriage to couples in our community, regardless of sexual identities, despite the prohibitions of our denomination.
The week after we, by the consensus of our church membership, made this decision, Kathryn and Kate asked for us to bless their wedding. We said yes—and before I could even begin preparations for their ceremony, people at church were organizing the schedule for our version of premarital counseling, where members sign up to invite the couple into their homes for intimate discussions focused on everything from finances to sex.
A few weeks later, during worship, Kate shared about her experience with our congregation: “Both of us have profoundly deep wounds from the church,” she said. After the ceremony, when my ordination had been suspended, Kathryn posted on her Facebook page a new experience of being in the church.
Church members (who fully knew that their pastor’s ordination would be suspended) invited us into their homes. They fed us. They laughed with us. They cried with us. They heard our stories as we heard theirs. They shared relationship wisdom, and left us with good marriage food to chew on. Incarnational presence. Just like that.
She added: “So this has been a miracle, transformational for our relationship with church and one another.”
At the end of the Nicene Creed we confess that we believe in the church. There are so many reasons to skip that line. Our congregations and denominations house a multitude of sins. We hurt people. We fail the gospel. Whenever church people speak, there is so much to distrust, so much to disbelieve. Yet, somehow, Kathryn and Kate came to us for God’s blessing upon their lives together. Last year I remember asking them why they wanted a church to be involved in their wedding, given how pastors and congregations and denominations have wounded them in the past. “We’ve learned to trust y’all,” Kathryn said. “We want God’s blessing, and we believe you when you offer it.”
I have my own reasons for mumbling through those words at the end of the Creed—the part about believing in the church. I’ve witnessed the unpleasantries of ecclesial politics. I’ve seen church leaders at their worst. But, now, I think of Kathryn and Kate when I read about the church in the Creed. I let their words of trust echo in my confession of belief. Their faith in the holiness of the church, even after all the rejection they’ve suffered, enlivens my faith. Somehow Kathryn and Kate found us—our congregation—and they saw something of God’s life in ours, the God who is pro nobis, as it says earlier in the Creed: “For us and our salvation, he came down from heaven.”
I don’t know what will happen to my ordination. Soon a committee will convene to determine whether to revoke my ministerial credentials. I care deeply about my Mennonite ordination. But I also care about the ordination I’ve undergone this past year, when Kathryn and Kate affirmed my ministry as part of our congregation by asking us to marry them, to speak blessings on behalf of God. Their trust in our congregation, in my life as a pastor, has been a furthering of the Spirit’s call on my life, a second anointing on my ordination.