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Personal Reflections on "THE" Holy Union in The United Methodist Church

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    CALLED OUT Note: the story below, with photos & more links, is on Affirmation s website at: http://www.umaffirm.org/news/2003jeanne-ellie.html The archives for
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2003

      Note: the story below, with photos & more links, is on Affirmation's
      website at:

      The archives for California Holy Union Service: Obedience to Jesus
      Christ; God's Good News of Love (Sacramento 68) is at:

      Affirmation Feature: March 2003
      Personal Reflections on "THE" Holy Union in The United Methodist
      An Interview with Ellie Charlton

      On Saturday, Jan. 16, 1999, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, a service
      blessing the holy union of Ellie Charlton (photo, left) and Jeanne
      Barnett (right), a lesbian couple, was performed by The Rev. Donald
      Fado, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church of Sacramento. He
      was joined by 150 clergy, including those who co-officiated "in
      absentia" and ecumenical representatives. On their anniversary, we
      asked them to reflect on the past four years.

      [Editor's Note: PG is the Rev. Peggy Gaylord, Affirmation's
      co-spokesperson and EC is Ellie Charlton]

      PG: Ellie, I remember that last meeting of the Study Committee on
      Homosexuality at Lake Junaluska. We'd stroll around the lake while
      Jeanne was in closed meetings with the committee, much more relaxing
      than the other meeting settings had been. We'd talk about
      relationships, what was important to us--it was obvious to me your
      devotion to Jeanne. I mostly knew you from Affirmation; but, as I
      recall, in public church arenas you were pretty low-key about anyone
      knowing about the fullness of your relationship with each other. How
      did that change come about?

      EC: This is how it all started. General Conference 1996 changed The
      Social Principles to include "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual
      unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be
      conducted in our churches." Because The Social Principles had
      historically been guidelines and not enforceable laws, most LGBT
      folks and supporters at General Conference had the attitude that
      their energy would be better put somewhere else.

      But the Judicial Council decision in August 1998 asserted that, even
      though it was in The Social Principles, because of the wording, it
      was enforceable law. At the time I said "That is not right and
      someone has to do something."

      In October 1998 at St. Mark's UMC, Sacramento, Rev. Don Fado preached
      a sermon stating that he did not agree with the ruling and would
      perform Holy Unions anyway. In fact, the next time he was asked to
      perform a Holy Union, he would like to do it publicly as a statement
      against the church ruling, and ask retired and close to retirement
      pastors in our Conference to join him as co-officiants.

      Three days later in a conversation with Rev. Fado about something
      else, the sermon came up, and Jeanne and I said we had never had a
      ceremony and we would like to have one. If someone had to do
      something, maybe it was us.

      PG: What did you think it would be like? Were there costs involved
      that you hadn't anticipated?

      EC: Oh, yeah!!! There were unexpected expenses, especially financial.
      Now we thought this would be a service with maybe 20 clergy as
      co-officiants, guests would be supportive members of our local church
      and a few close friends. The service would be at our church and the
      reception in the Social Hall. Probably with refreshments donated.
      Soon several people offered to bake cakes, etc.

      Don announced the planned event, said he would use the church only if
      members agreed it was OK, and asked folks to send comments to the
      office. Soon there was a not so nice letter sent out asking if they
      wanted Rev. Fado to use our church to "break church law." This was
      not signed and went to people the author/s thought would oppose. To
      this day we don't know who sent the letter. At any rate, by this time
      Rev. Fado was telling us that the church wasn't going to be large
      enough (it holds approx. 400 people). He had 50 or more clergy
      already signed up to CO-officiate. Since this was to be a happy
      event, we were determined not to have our energy drained by any
      conflict in our local church. We asked Rev. Fado to announce the next
      Sunday that we were withdrawing our request to the church for the
      Holy Union.

      The search was on for a suitable location. [After checking many
      places throughout the community], finally it was set for the exhibit
      hall where we hold worship services during Annual Conference. We had
      held up sending out invitations until we knew [our location]. So we
      sent out invitations, then all sorts of problems started with using
      that location....(All this was happening as clergy were [in the midst
      of Advent responsibilities].)

      On Jan. 6, 1999, we went to the facility to make the last on site
      [inspection] to work on final plans of how to make it all work and
      flow smoothly. The facility director asked, "Why don't you use the
      Community Theater? It's available and holds 1200 people and has all
      the stuff you need: lights, stage, sound etc." By this time we were
      also working on security, which would be much better at the theater.
      We could control access to the entire building.... So 10 days before
      the Holy Union we changed locations. When folks arrived at the
      convention center per the invitations, they were directed across the
      mall to the theater.

      The community center has an exclusive contract with a caterer, and we
      could not bring in our own food. The first quote for the standard
      cake, coffee and punch was $8.50 per person. By now we were expecting
      at least 1,000 people. I said, "I don't think so!! How about just
      cookies and punch?"; all we would need would be cold cups and
      napkins... The price came down to $3.75 each. We ended up raising the
      order to serve 1,200. That is all probably more that you ever wanted
      to know!

      When we were looking over the theater and making final plans, I was
      in shock thinking of what this was going to cost. Besides the
      reception, there was risers for the choir, theater rental, union
      labor costs, city police/ security, decorations and flowers (both
      done at cost; volunteers did the work), printing of invitations,
      envelopes, stamps. That cost was over $16,500. In addition, we spent
      $3,000 for family travel, hotel and food. (Family members couldn't
      afford to come on their own and we felt it necessary to have them
      here.) I am sure the total cost was over $20,000.

      PG: I bet there were very few times while you were treasurer of
      National Affirmation that you paid out that kind of money on a single
      project! What did you do?

      EC: Fortunately, at the end of the service, Rev. Fado announced there
      were donation boxes in the lobby if anyone wanted to help with the
      cost. With what was collected that day, donations that came in over
      the next several weeks, and a generous donation two months later of
      $2,000 from one of the retired clergy co-officiants, almost $16,000
      was received.

      PG: Looking back, would you do it all over again? Would you change

      EC: Would we do it again? We still stand by the statement we made in
      an interview with The Advocate; "Our first response would be 'no,'
      because we are rather quiet, private people. However, knowing how
      much it has meant to so many gay people, we would do it again in an
      instant." We have been honored and/or given special recognition by
      many groups: local gay organizations, Presbyterian support group, Los
      Angeles LGBT Center, Soulforce, Affirmation, RCP [Reconciling
      Congregation Program, now Reconciling Ministries Network], and
      several churches in our conference. We have met many great people we
      wouldn't have met if it were not for the Holy Union and publicity
      about it. We never go to a church gathering, conference or national,
      but what someone doesn't come up and thank us or just want to give us
      a hug.

      We were at the hospital last week in the elevator and a woman got on
      with a lab cart, looked at us and said, "didn't I see you two on TV?"
      Well, it's possible but that was four years ago. Often people will
      come up to us and say I worked with you 20 (or so) years ago; I was
      watching you on TV and rooting for you. I'm sure we will never know
      the full impact our small effort to "do something" has made or how
      many people it has affected.

      The only change I would make is not to spend time with the video and
      photo people after the service and spend all that time at the
      reception greeting people.

      Several Affirmation friends came a great distance to be with us:
      Chicago, Denver, Oregon. It was really great to have them here. Some
      Affirmation friends were part of the service. Randy Miller read the
      scripture and had great comments to make. Rev. Jeanne Knepper read a
      poem that she wrote especially for the occasion. It included some of
      our experience with the General Conference Study on Homosexuality.
      Our friend Rev. Ronna Case (Ted Jennings' wife) came from Chicago to
      lead the affirmation written many years ago by Rev. Barbara Troxell.
      Our conference treasurer organized the representatives from the RCP's
      to be on the stage for the blessing. (She now has given birth to
      triplets.) Her partner and a man from our local Affirmation group,
      both choir directors in local UMC's, recruited the members and
      co-directed the pre-service choir. Jeanne's cousin from Palm Springs,
      also an Affirmation member, played the piano and sang a duet with
      Jeanne's niece, the love song from Phantom of the Opera.

      PG: I was unexpectely in San Francisco at Christmastime just before
      your Union, so I didn't see how I could travel back coast-to-coast
      three weeks later. I thought about calling, but didn't want to
      intrude at holiday time, typical family time; I figured you must be
      really busy. My prayers were with you, and I watched some of it on
      TV. Do you think it made the impact on the Church that you had hoped
      for? If not, was it worth it anyway? From your perspective, were
      there other impacts in addition or instead of? Are you still hopeful
      that the church can/will change? If so, what sustains that hope?
      EC: The impact on the Church was like the shot heard around the
      world. People in churches had to discuss the subject of LGBT folk in
      the church and Holy Unions. It was a great chance for LGBT supporters
      to show who they were. Many co-officiants have shared with us that
      people came up to them and talked about their 'gay' relatives, people
      who had never shared before.

      Don got e-mails from Japan and Russia as well as across the nation.

      At the time, we didn't think about it, but the state of California
      was soon to vote on 'Gay Marriages.' That, of course, didn't pass,
      but it did make people look at the issue in a different light.

      We wanted Jane/John Q Public to get a different look at lesbians
      other than what is usually shown. That happened.

      We wanted the Church to start talking. That happened.

      When we get discouraged about the church ever changing, we look at
      the hundreds of supporters we have and know we can't let them down.

      Recently, we saw our friend Judy Fjell, singer/songwriter. She shared
      with us, that as she travels around the country, people make comments
      about the Holy Union and us. She laughs and tells them she knows us,
      and we are two very quiet people, not the radicals they envision.

      PG: Well, Ellie, you know what they always say: You have to watch the
      quiet ones! So, what about the impact on the two of you, personally?
      Any surprises?

      EC: We didn't expect our relationship to change after 15 years over a
      simple little service. It did. We became much closer and more
      intimate that ever. What a great surprise. We thank God for every day
      we have together. What a blessing! We will celebrate our 19th year
      together in April. Nineteen glorious years!

      PG: Thank you, Ellie, for sharing so much with us. On behalf of the
      Council, I want to say that we continue our prayers on your behalf
      and send you much love.

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