Monday, September 29, 2014

My Journey to Jerusalem - Deciding to Officiate

          I was preparing for my Lenten messages this year when God spoke to me: “Go to Jerusalem.” I was preaching every Sunday one chapter from the gospel of Mark. The eighth chapter is about halfway through the book. Jesus announces that he’s going to Jerusalem. Peter tells him not to do it, but Jesus rebukes Peter. Jesus insists God wants him to go to Jerusalem. He knows this will lead to a trial before the religious leaders. But it was what God wanted.

          While I was preparing to preach a sermon about Jesus going to Jerusalem, God says to me, “Go to Jerusalem.” I understood God to mean that I needed to officiate at my daughter’s wedding. I knew it might lead to a trial before my religious leaders. But it was what God wanted.
          My journey in coming to this decision started four months earlier in November of 2013. Sarah and Ali had been a couple for about 8 years. Sarah came home for a brief visit that November and told us, “Ali and I are planning on getting married in August of 2014.” We were excited for them.
 I was following closely the trial of Frank Schaeffer for officiating at his son’s wedding. I knew there was a chance Frank could lose his ministerial credentials in the United Methodist Church, but I was shocked by the eventual verdict and severe sentence. Frank was simply doing what any loving minister father would do for their child.
I wrote in my journal that month: “Should I officiate at Sarah’s wedding? If I do, should I try to keep it quiet or should I be willing to publicize it?” I wondered if God was calling me to support LGBT people like my daughter by “going public”. But as I watched Frank Schaeffer, I knew my decision might have significantly negative consequences.
Sarah came home for Christmas with her partner Ali. We talked more about the wedding and the possibility of my officiating. My wife Lori asked, “But what about your pension, Michael? If you’re defrocked, will you lose all our retirement benefits from the church?” I told her I’d check into it.
I called our Board of Pensions and Health Benefits the first week of January. They assured me that even if I had my ministerial credentials removed, I would not lose my retirement benefits. I told both my wife Lori and daughter Sarah about this. They were much relieved and gave their approval for me to continue considering whether to officiate.
It was the beginning of March when I was preparing my Lenten sermons from the gospel of Mark that God most clearly spoke to me. He said, “Go to Jerusalem.” I sensed that God’s will for me was to take the road of potential suffering and officiate at Sarah’s wedding. God told me I should be willing to sacrifice all for Him and for the people He loved.
I met with Dave Lundquist on March 21st. Dave is the chairperson of the Task Force on Marriage Equality in our Conference. I told him I was thinking about officiating at my daughter Sarah’s wedding in August. We talked about both the witness and the danger in letting the news about this become public. He pointed me to some helpful resources on the subject.
A week later, March 28th, Sarah finalizes her wedding date. We are so excited for her. She and her partner Ali put together a wonderfully worded web site on the ceremony.
I reflect in my journal the following month about the issue of whether to officiate. I write: “My primary loyalty is to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. That loyalty trumps my loyalty to the United Methodist Church. God has a tradition of welcoming and loving those treated as outsiders. I believe God celebrates our human institution of marriage. Therefore I feel compelled to officiate at Sarah and Ali’s wedding as a witness to God’s love.”

My journey to Jerusalem ended on August 17 when I officiated at their beautiful wedding ceremony. 

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