Thursday, April 2, 2015

Marriage, Covenant and Holy Week

This isn't the normal article one would usually find during Holy Week on this blog.  Because of J's fall  and broken neck in January and the weeks in rehab and therapy, we chose not to observe Lent this year.  January and
February was as close as we wanted to come to the journey to the Cross this year. And consequently I am not ready for Easter.                 

 Since neither of us have liturgical duties this year, we are 'sitting this one out'. We will attend, of course, but not get too Eastery--no chocolate eggs. 

Instead we are both are contemplating the meaning of Covenant and Marriage as we have decided to be married in 
Delaware in May.  This may come as a shock to some.  It even comes of a bit of shock to me as I have never thought of myself as being 'the marrying kind.' But the real issues of safety in medical facilities became not only apparent, but they showed to be real barriers to good care and made clear we need to make our relationship more 'official' as we grow older. One may have all the medical power of attorney in the world,  but if the doctor, nurse or orderly on the medical team doesn't want to deal with you, you can't get the medical information for the other unless one is a spouse.

Judy Upham and I have lived together for 40 years.  We first came together because of financial constraints: we were roommates trying to do ministry at the very beginning of women's ordination in the Episcopal Church.  J was one of the movers and shakers in the movement and was priested only 6 days after the ordination of Women was permitted in 1977.  We met at a group of interdenominational women in ministry founded by Mary Bruggeman in St. Louis.  We moved into a small house a couple of blocks from Eden Seminary.

Our relationship was not 'love at first sight'.  However we did know 'respect' very quickly and enjoyed the conversations and shared our respective ministries: I, a religion teacher in Roman Catholic schools and she, a hospital chaplain.  

Those were heady times.  The ELCA had just been formed; Seminex was meeting at St. Louis U, a Jesuit school where I was working on Masters in Religious Education.  I was also directing the choir in a large RC church.  We understood each other as support, financial, spiritual and emotional, over the years. In 1979 J was called to Syracuse, the first woman called across diocesan lines to become a rector.  I followed when the publication of Paul VI's encyclical on women was promulgated, and I realized that I could no longer stay a Roman Catholic.  

I did not become an Episcopalian in J's parish.  We knew that separation to do ministry was important and we have never worked or were members of the same congregation until retirement, recognizing that each of us had different ways of following God's call to us.  

I understood our relationship to be not much different from my life as a vowed celibate while I was in the convent.  I knew myself to be lesbian, but I also understood that the private vows I had made were still the way I wanted to live. I could not live openly as gay; I would never have been accepted as a priest and pastor in the congregations I served.  Also, I never
wanted to J to be identified as lesbian. It was too much of a stigma.  We both respected the relationship that she had had with Jon Daniels. The gay-straight relationship was a comfortable one for us.  

In the 80's we explored the possibility of joining with other women and formed the Caritas Community.  At that time there were no women bishops to sponsor and we chose not to go through the rigamarole of becoming 'official'.  Most of us were not Anglo-Catholic and the models of being an order didn't fit the priestly nature of the 5 of us who discussed the Community. It never really developed in the kind of spiritual reality that we wanted.

We lived in each other's rectories.  We attended the same clergy events and participated in the work of diocese as
rectors or interims as our ministries took us.   Sometimes we had to have 2 separate households to do the work that we were given.  But we still spent a great bit of time with each other.  We supported each other for 'richer or poorer, in sickness and health' and over the years the love just grew.  She helped me through seminary.  I took care of her after an aneurysm.  It was just what we did because of the commitment that we never had to speak.  

In 2003 after I supported the election of +Gene Robinson, I was outed by the dean of my district who finally left the Church.  The treatment that we received from the bishop then helped us realize that the Episcopal Church may be 'welcoming and affirming', but we weren't to be believed when we said we were celibate. I have had enough of knowing looks by men who cannot understand that there can be intimacy without sex.  We became worker priests learning about retail and the grocery business.  Finally I was called to a small ELCA congregation and was able to get enough credits to retire.

When NY state began to explore 'same-sex' marriage J and I would joke about getting married but we weren't serious about it.  We had friends who began to be married.  I was invited to critique the Blessings of Same-Sex liturgies before their acceptance at the 2012 General Convention.  I
was asked to celebrate the first Blessing in the Diocese of Fort Worth with the permission of the bishop.  Marriage still wasn't on my radar.  Texas doesn't recognize it.  Slowly but surely however, I realized that what J and I had was more than just roommate status.  And besides, at 70, to still refer to J as my 'roomy' was just a bit too much!  

After a lovely visit with a lesbian couple at Christmas, on the way home, I asked Judy if she would really want to be married to me.  Her vociferous response of YES!!! shook me.  I never knew she felt as deeply committed to me as I felt to her.  We have always told each other that we love her.  We do it several
times a day and especially when it is the hardest to say it.  But to be espoused is a whole different thing.  It is opening one's self to embrace a whole level of affirmation of life in one another.  It isn't about ownership, as marriage is often understood. It isn't about sex. It isn't about obedience but it is about the laying down one's life for the other.  It is a surrender.

The kind of intimacy we have may not be the same as either heretosexual couples or lesbians.  But it is just as deep, and it has stood the test of time.  It has gone through the same ups and downs that most good marriages have. 

Marriage is about trust and covenant.  It is about common values.  It is about holding up our place in society with respect and embrace.  It is about nurture of those around us in Christ's love.  And just as surely as J and I are called priests of the Church, we are called into the covenant relationship of Marriage. 

Those who feel that marriage can only be about
procreation do not read Scripture rightly. Most marriages in Scripture are about the giving and taking of property.  And this is even the basis of the Marriage ceremony in the prayer book.  I hope I am not stepping on  what many of you hold sacred about your marriage vows, but the vows that J and I will repeat in May will bring a covenantal nature to the relationship we have lived for more than a generation.  I am just thankful that we have lived to time and place where we can do this with the support of those who love us. We will not be each other's wife.  We are neither wives.  And neither of us are husbands.  We are two women who have claimed God's call to be coupled in the bonds of holiness and eternity.

If you can celebrate with us, please join us at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, DE on May 30 at 2:oo pm. Please RSVP by email or Message so we can know how many to prepare for.  If not, your prayers and spiritual presence would be appreciated.

Lauren Gough and Judith Upham