“Last spring my wife and I went to what amounted to a wedding although the word used in the invitation was not wedding but celebration - “a celebration of love and commitment,” the invitation said. The reason the word wedding was not used was that the couple in question were not a man and a woman but two women. One of them was a childhood friend of our daughter, whom we had known since she was five years old or so, a pigtailed, freckled-faced, plump little thing who grew up to become in her thirties a warm-hearted, spontaneous, outgoing woman who has had great success as a teacher and a coach at a secondary school near where we live. The other, her friend, was a year or two older, an intelligent, well-educated woman who tends to be more reserved at first but is full of the same kind of wit and strength and human warmth when you get to know her.
It is hard to convey the mixed feelings i had when the invitation arrived. With part of myself, I could only rejoice not only that two people I liked and admired had each found in the other a companion she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, but that instead of keeping it as a guilty secret between them, they were prepared to stand up and declare it in the midst of a small town that they surely knew could no more be depended upon to view it with tolerance and understanding than any small town anywhere in this country or anywhere else.
With part of myself, I found it hard to believe that Jesus himself would do anything but bless a commitment as honest and brave as the one they were making to each other. The Bible has hard things to say about homosexuality in the sense of prostitution and lust and exploitation - just as it has equally hard things to say about heterosexuality in the sense of prostitution and lust and exploitation - but about homosexuality in the sense of the kind of loving, faithful, monogamous relationship that these two women were entering upon, it seems to leave it to us to search our own hearts, and with part of my own heart I was nothing but happy for them and wished them nothing but well.
But that was only with part of my heart. With the other part I was afraid for these two people and ambivalent in all sorts of ways about what they were doing and confused by my own ambivalence. I am as much a product of my own generation with all its prejudices and preconceptions and hang-ups as anybody else, and I couldn’t help wishing that things had turned out differently for them. I wished my daughter’s childhood friend had found a man to fall in love with and to have babies with the way my daughter did. I wished that in a world that God knows is dangerous and complicated enough as it is, she and her friend had chosen a safer, simpler, more well-marked path, and as I thought ahead to the celebration we were bidden to, I couldn’t help believing that a great many others - the parents, the friends, everybody who loved them - probably wished the same thing. So with all this going on inside me, I went to the ceremony full of misgivings. I felt awkward and divided inside myself. I felt awkward about what to say when I got there, about what to think, about what to be.
Some of the people I would have expected to find there were not there. Did they stay away because they felt awkward too? Did they stay away because they were scandalized? Did they stay away because of what other people would think if they went? Maybe they just hadn’t been invited. Who knows? But a lot of people did go, well over a hundred anyway. The ceremony took place outside on the lawn in front of the house of the parents of my daughter’s friend. There was the usual milling around and chatting while we waited for the musicians to arrive. There was a tent set up for the reception. It had been threatening rain, but the sun came out at the last minute. The service was conducted by a minister and his wife whom most of us knew. There was a homily based on the words of Ruth to Naomi - “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Vows were exchanged, the couple embraced, and the minister blessed them.
How to describe such an occasion in Vermont of all places and in the presence of some people who looked right out of Norman Rockwell and other who looked as if they’d never heard of Norman Rockwell and would have looked down their noses at him if they had? How to guess what they felt about what they were there to witness except that probably no two of them felt quite the same way? But there was one feeling that I am as certain as you can be about such things that we all shared, and that was the feeling that something honest and loving and brave was happening before our eyes, and that something kind and affirming and hopeful was happening inside ourselves, and that grace, never more amazingly, was somehow in the very air we breathed. In other words, for a few moments that summer afternoon, it seemed to me that we were what I believe the church was created to be.
We all of us hunger for church to be like that always. We hunger for a sense of the presence of God. We hunger for God’s grace to be as palpable as it seemed to be at that offbeat little celebration in Vermont, where no matter what our misgivings were about what it was that was being celebrated, we were all of us truly friends in Christ there, and Christ was truly our friend there and the friend as well of the two young women who were being blessed in his name. It is St. John’s “word of life” that we hunger for and St. John’s joy. But too often the churches we know seem lifeless and joyless. Too often the preachers we hear seem to know about the holy truth they proclaim, but not to be hearing and seeing and touching it in their own lives, not to be in touch with the living heart of that truth, which is that we were created to love one another despite all the differences between us the way God loves us despite all the differences between us.
I wish the church could be as open-hearted and open-minded and free as it was on that little patch of front lawn as the sun came out from behind the clouds. I wish that we could affirm as truly as we did there that wherever people love each other and are true to each other and take risks for each other, God is with them and for them and they are doing God’s will.”
Secrets In the Dark - Frederick Buechner