The faithful celebrate gay marriage in service at Duluth

Published 9:21 am Friday, May 17, 2013

DULUTH — Jack Kemp helped start a chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays at Duluth’s Pilgrim Congregational Church more than two decades ago. He was the pastor there and also helped usher in a likely first for the area, a lesbian minister.

“This church wrestled with that very hard,” Kemp said at the church Wednesday night in the glow of a celebratory service after the same-sex marriage bill became a reality in Minnesota this week.

There was a conversation, and that model, Kemp agreed, is what won the day for groups like Minnesotans United For All Families, which led the charge in getting the marriage bill passed in the Legislature and the marriage definition amendment spurned last fall by voters.

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They created a statewide network of phone callers who spoke to Minnesotans with personal stories about gay people in their own lives and the exclusion of gay people in society.

The history of accepting gay people in the church helps define what Pilgrim stands for, Kemp said.

“It’s part of open and affirming inclusion,” he said.

And his former church is not alone. Current Pilgrim pastor Charlotte Frantz told the 100 people gathered with tears of celebration that too often the faith communities get lumped into the religious camp that fought gay marriage.

“Communities of faith have made an important contribution,” she said.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church hosted the office and phone bank for the Duluth chapter of Minnesotans United.

The Rev. Dave Carlson said offering the space was an “easy thing to do.”

“We see this as our social justice mission,” Carlson said. “The church needs to be involved in the public when it comes to justice issues. We’ve striven for equality for all people.”

Peace United Church of Christ, First United Methodist, Unitarian Universalist Church and others have been working on equality for gay people for decades, Frantz said. Many members of those churches were on hand Wednesday for the celebration.

Duluth United organizer Gary Anderson said he was warmed when he walked into Pilgrim and looked at the large stained glass window behind the altar being kissed by a setting sun. He also was reminded of how the seemingly impossible occurred this week with the signing of the marriage bill.

“No, we’re not in Oz,” he said. “This is Minnesota. It feels like Oz. Who would have thought?”

Anderson got a standing ovation from the crowd for his hard work organizing the Duluth phone bank and fundraising effort.

Anderson said that while opposition talked about same-sex marriage dividing people, United troops talked about commonalities.

“We empowered people,” he said.

He also talked about his husband, Gary Boelhower, choking up when he thought of the past two years of hard work and coming home to full support.

“That’s what marriage is about,” he said.

Anderson thanked Sara Thomsen for leading the music, which included a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” that included the lyric: “Wedding bells are gonna shine.”

“We need to gather and celebrate,” Frantz said. “Now is the time. Love wins out.”

Members of the audience were allowed to reflect in one sentence how they felt about same-sex marriage finally passing through the Legislature.

“I never felt this word course so strong through my body,” one woman said. “Hallelujah.”

Gary Lundstrom said for “years and decades we’ve been told to be grateful for the crumbs of tolerance at the table. This week, we got a seat at the banquet table.”

The Rev. David Bard from First United Methodist gave a prayer and said that although “it is a joy” to celebrate the new law, humility is also required to transform society into a “beloved community.”

“Laws don’t change hearts,” Bard said, meaning work still needs to be done to heal divisions over the marriage issue and the treatment of gay people in all parts of daily life.

“Love’s work is not done,” he said.

Frantz helped the congregation recite the common marriage ceremony passage from Corinthians that begins with “Love is patient; love is kind.”

Thomsen closed the celebration by urging the audience to sing along and mimic the horns in what she called an old British tune: “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles.

And, yes, there have been inquiries at churches for open dates after Aug. 1, when marriages between same-sex partners will be recognized by state law. Pastor Bruce Johnson at Unitarian Universalist Church said there have been a few.

Pastor Carlson at Gloria Dei has had them as well. He’ll take them gladly as the church has done plenty of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in the past.

“We’re happy to call them marriages now,” Carlson said. “The language is important.”