Methodist ministers defy church at same-sex union

Newlyweds Taylor (center) and Gatewood (right) have been together for 25 years. "I've been wanting to do this all my life," Gatewood said. "In church."
Newlyweds Taylor (center) and Gatewood (right) have been together for 25 years. "I've been wanting to do this all my life," Gatewood said. "In church."
Posted: November 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA It began with one pastor and two grooms. But after the vows had been exchanged, the other clergy moved forward from their pews.

About 50 of them filled the front of Arch Street United Methodist Church on Saturday. The closest rested their hands on the couple. The rest placed their palms on the clergy nearest.

"Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder," they said in unison, blessing the same-sex union in defiance of church law.

For the Methodist ministers in the group, a large majority of the 50, participating in the ceremony could result in the loss of their credentials. They did so in an unprecedented protest of church doctrine and a showing of solidarity for one of their own.

That colleague, the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., will be put on trial by the Methodist Church on Nov. 18 for having officiated over his son's marriage to another man.

A spokesman from the church's eastern Pennsylvania conference declined to say whether anyone in the group faced discipline like Schaefer. Organizers who said they feared retaliation did not release a list of the participants.

As Bill Gatewood and Rick Taylor walked down the aisle Saturday, though, no one mentioned those consequences.

"Your church, your pastor, those pastors who have gathered here today, clergy not only who are United Methodists but other faiths as well, say you are not only accepted but you are acceptable in the sight of God," the Rev. Robin Hynicka, the church's pastor, told the men as cheers from nearly 400 supporters echoed in the vaulted ceiling.

After the ceremony, Taylor, 55, and Gatewood, 70, said the traditional wedding - a blessing in front of the altar, an exchange of the same vows spoken by so many others, a reception in the basement hall - was all they ever wanted. The ceremony, however, was mostly symbolic because same-sex marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania

"I've been wanting to do this all my life," Gatewood said.

"In church," he added - the place they said has shepherded them through some of the most difficult periods of their 25-year relationship.

They met at Woody's, a gay bar on 13th Street. Gatewood asked for Taylor's number. Taylor, new to Philadelphia and jaded by the bar scene, wrote it down but did not expect a call.

A few nights later, they had dinner. And over the coming months, Taylor began to fall in love with his new city with Gatewood as his tour guide.

A few years later, a friend introduced them to Arch Street, a congregation committed to the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations.

"It was just a really warm feeling that we got from people," Taylor said. "It was an acceptance."

He knows that acceptance isn't something all gay people have found in a church. And he recognizes how lucky the two were to have had a church when the AIDS epidemic took its toll on their community.

"I didn't know where to go," Gatewood said.

At the church, they found ministers who consoled them. Who added the names of their sick friends to the prayer lists. Who performed funerals when those friends began to die.

"That's why we want to get married in our church. We have many, many people who say, Why don't you just go to New York or Delaware?" Taylor said. "And it's because we live in Pennsylvania and our church home is here and it means the world to us."

He called it a gift that so many ministers would risk their jobs to see that happen.

"I hope no one causes any trouble," Taylor said. "I've been praying on that, that people will see the light."  


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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