Inside the walls of a 150-year-old United Methodist church something new happened Nov. 9 when two gay men were surrounded by more than 40 faith leaders who blessed their marriage and recited in unison, “Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
Richard Kevin Taylor and William Robert Gatewood celebrated their 25-year relationship with a service of Christian marriage inside stately Arch Street United Methodist Church, and people cheered.
A choir of more than 30 voices and a 2,322-pipe organ from 1870 swelled the marble edifice with sounds of joy. Several times during the ceremony, the wedding guests stopped the proceedings with extended applause and later danced in the aisles as the couple processed out with hands raised while the organ played “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”
The Rev. Robin M. Hynicka, senior pastor of Arch Street, estimated 36 United Methodist clergy and nine clergy from other faith traditions were standing together at the front of the church to recite the Declaration of Marriage, Lord’s Prayer and Blessing of Marriage. An additional 17 United Methodist clergy and eight clergy from other faiths had their names added to the marriage certificate by proxy. The total count could increase, Hynicka said.
This wedding stirred many emotions in the denomination. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Pennsylvania and The United Methodist Church forbids ordained clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings. The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, forbids same-sex marriage in United Methodist churches and declares marriage is between a man and a woman. Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The law book also declares every person is a person of sacred worth.
What does the church say
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, since 1972 has proclaimed the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from performing “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
The 2012 General Conference, when it met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla., rejected efforts to change that language, including aproposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality. General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, will next convene in 2016.
Officiating at same-sex unions is a chargeable offense under the Book of Discipline. Clergy convicted in a church court can face a loss of clergy credentials or lesser penalties. However, church law does not censure those who disagree with church teaching on this matter — only those who actually take actions that violate church law.
The Book of Discipline also states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
After a life-threatening illness, Gatewood, 70, told Hynicka that he wanted to marry Taylor in their church. The couple have been members of Arch Street for more than 20 years.
“I was called to ministry more than 40 years ago and have been in active ministry for 35 years,” Hynicka said. “I can’t remember any other moment like today when I absolutely felt I was doing what God wanted me to do. To deny this opportunity would have been denying the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
Gavin Patrick Mahoney, a sacred music major at Westminster Choir College, said the wedding meant a victory for love. “It was so touching to see the happiness experienced by everyone in a special moment like this.”
In addition to celebrating the couple, the pastors said they wanted to stand in solidarity with the Rev. Frank Schaefer who will face a church trial Nov. 18 for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding seven years ago. Schaefer, who will be on trial in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, said the wedding was wonderful to see.
Hynicka said this wedding was a challenge to “hypocrisy.”
“Today I am no longer a self-avowed, practicing hypocrite,” Hynicka said.
* Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.