The lay leadership of Arch Street UM Church decided that they would host a ceremony of marriage for a gay couple; two of their active parishioners. They stepped out in faith fully aware of the consequences, but more fully committed to expressing the love of Christ in their church and witnessing to it in Center City, Philadelphia. The decision to fully extend their ministry to all in their community was inspiring. When word of their action got out, people throughout the city, as well as throughout the denomination, were celebrating that God’s grace and abiding love were being made evident. At the time, our Annual Conference was on the verge of the Frank Schaeffer church trial. Because of that, the discriminatory stance of the United Methodist Church regarding LGBT persons was being publicized. The Arch Street witness proclaimed that many of us who claim United Methodism as our denominational identity boldly say ‘NO’ to discrimination. My choice to participate proclaimed ‘YES’ to the witness of the United Methodist Church!
I was honored to be invited to co-officiate such an important event in the life of Arch Street UM Church. Providing support for my ordained brothers and sisters in a way that enables the furthering of the ministry of Jesus Christ within the context of the United Methodist Church is my covenantal responsibility. My choice to participate proclaimed ‘YES’ to my vows of ordination.
Most importantly, I considered my relationship with God. My personal connection to the Divine is deeply woven into experiences and relationships with the people in my life. My youngest child is gay. I have a lesbian niece. Dear friends from college and seminary are homosexual. I have ministered with parishioners and colleagues who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. To marginalize and exclude these loved ones from full access to the gifts that the church has to offer – including the blessing of marriage – would be saying ‘NO’ not only to them but to my relationship with God. My prayerful discernment in terms of participating in this particular ceremony led me to say ‘YES’. I fully embrace this ‘YES’ as relative not only to my involvement in a singular event, but to my deepening relationship with the Holy which has found expression in my relationship with the United Methodist Church.
I have been in ministry for over 30 years. Standing in the Arch Street sanctuary that day in November 2013, connected to the couple and colleagues through a chain of our hands upon one another’s shoulders; singing familiar hymns; praying for the blessing of steadfast love, and proclaiming that Rick and Bill were bound together in Holy Christian marriage was one of the greatest highlights of my time in ministry. I am grateful I had the opportunity to say ‘YES’ … and I am humbled by the privilege.
-The Rev. Sharon L. Vandegrift