Friday, October 18, 2013

Service for an Age of Marriage Equality

The following were the words for the service at our wedding:


THE MARRIAGE OF
STEWART HAMMER AND ALFREDO LANIER
Saturday, September 28, 2013

at The First Parish of Stow and Acton

The Rev. Tom Rosiello, officiant

OPENING WORDS

It is my privilege to officiate at this wedding. Until just a few years ago,
when two individuals of the same sex who loved each other and were committed to each other wished to make a legal commitment to each other, they were denied that opportunity to marry. But so much has changed in our society and for the institution of marriage.

Stew and Al, today we celebrate not only your love and commitment to each other, but also equality in the institution of marriage. Here in Massachusetts and now in many other states and several other countries, we are able to recognize your the love as a legal marriage with all the same legal rights, benefits and responsibilities as any other marriage.

We pause in gratitude to give thanks for those whose struggle made this day possible. At the same time, let us not forget that the struggle continues; that most gay and lesbian folk are still not able to marry. May the experience we share here today help to advance the right of marriage for all who seek its benefits and wish to take on its responsibilities.

Yes, much has changed, but much more remains the same. It is, as it always has been, one of life’s richest blessings when two people find each other, fall in love and know that they have found the person with whom they want to spend their life.

In your case, that happened a quite while ago.  Today is more of a celebration of what already is than what will be. It is a celebration of the love that has grown up between you over more than 40 years and united you to each other; a love that I am sure has known good times and faced life’s challenges. I am sure it has been a wonderful journey during which you have come to truly know and understand each other, as well as to love each other and that is as it should be.

Marriage is not a commitment made lightly or unadvisedly, but one entered into reverently and thoughtfully, and with the knowledge that true and abiding love is life’s highest achievement and God’s most precious gift.

PRAYER

O God, spirit of life, source of love,
May we be ever grateful for the many gifts
Which are ours to share:

For the joy of friendship,
the bonds of family, 
and the many opportunities to learn,
grow and contribute to our world. 

Today, we are especially grateful for
that most perfect gift, the gift of love,
which enshrines and ennobles all
our human experience. 

It is love that can bear all things,
believe all things,
hope all things
and endure all things. 

It is love that can fill the simplest of experiences with
the great joy and love that can bring the most profound comfort,
even in the most difficult of times.

May that powerful love,
pure and honest,
respectful and holy,
embrace you this day and
continue to grow each day in your lives. Amen. 


DECLARATION OF INTENT

Stewart and Alfredo, you have lived your lives together committed to each other.  So now I ask you together, are you ready to pledge your mutual love, respect and fidelity, and be joined together in marriage?

 IF SO PLEASE RESPOND: "WE ARE"


READING
(From the words of the 19th century Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker (slightly adapted)
It takes years to marry completely two hearts, even of the most loving and well assorted. A happy wedlock is a long falling in love. Young persons think love belongs only to the brown-haired and crimson-cheeked. So it does for its beginning, but the golden marriage is a part of love which youth knows nothing of. A perfect and complete marriage, where wedlock is everything you could ask and the ideal of marriage becomes actual, is not common, perhaps as rare as perfect personal beauty. People are married fractionally, now a small fraction, then a large fraction. Very few are married totally, and they only after some forty or fifty years of gradual approach and experiment. Such a large and sweet fruit is a complete marriage that it needs a long summer to ripen in, and then a long winter to mellow and season it. But a real, happy marriage of love is one of the things so very handsome that if the sun were, as the Greek poets fabled, a God, he might stop the world and hold it still now and then in order to look all day long on some example thereof, and feast his eyes on such a spectacle.
 EXCHANGE OF VOWS

The meaning of marriage
begins in the giving and receiving of words.
You cannot join yourself to another
without giving your word. 
And this must be an unconditional giving,
for in joining yourself to another
you join yourself to the unknown.
You have already walked a long way together,
But you still have a journey ahead.
You each still have hope, dreams, plans.
Some will become realities
and others will not.
The truth is that you cannot know
the road you will walk together.
 What you commit to today
in the vows which you will now make
is the way in which you
will together walk each step along that road.

VOWS
(please repeat after me)
I Stewart, take you Alfredo,
to be none other than yourself,
Loving all that I have come to know about you in the past 41 years
and trusting what I still may not yet know,
I will continue to respect your integrity,
be faithful to you,
and have faith in your abiding love for me
through all the years we have together
and  in all that those years may bring.

 I, Alfredo take you Stewart
to be none other than yourself,
Loving all that I have come to know about you in the past 41 years
and trusting what I still may not yet know,
I will  continue to respect your integrity,
be faithful to you
and have faith in your abiding love for me
through all the years we have together
and in all that those years may bring.

BLESSING OF RINGS

O God, source of all blessing, bless these rings and those who will wear them. Like the precious metal of which these rings are made, may your love remain the most precious possession of your life.  Just as these rings will encircle your fingers, may loyalty, commitment and mutual respect encircle your relationship.  May these rings always be a visible sign of your love and devotion to each other.

EXCHANGE OF RINGS

As you place the ring on your partner’s finger, please repeat after me:

Alfredo, I give you this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness to you. 
Stewart, I give you this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness to you.

 BENEDICTION

This marriage is an event in a lifetime of love.  Neither I, nor all of society, can truly join you today. By your words this day, and by the love you shared every day for all these years, you have joined yourselves together.


We pray that you will be equal to the demands of all your tomorrows. May you keep the promises you have made this day and be a blessing and comfort to each other. May your marriage always be a shared adventure, rich in moments of serenity as well as times of excitement, strengthened by challenges, uplifted by achievements, and enriched by mutual respect.  May you find in each other companionship as well as love, understanding as well as compassion, healthy challenges as well as easy agreements.  May your lives be full and rich, not so much with material things, but with those things that matter most: family, friends good health and a life of purpose.  May your joys be many, your sorrows few and your love everlasting. AMEN

PRONOUNCEMENT

Stewart and Alfredo:  As you have declared your consent before God and those gathered here, I, by the authority vested in me by this Unitarian Universalist church and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declare you to be legally married and entitled to all rights and privileges of that institution.


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Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Perfect Day: September 28, 2013

We got to the church an hour early, not that we were anxious or anything.

Or maybe we were. I know I was, at the strange prospect of getting officially married by a minister, in a church, and not in a "commitment," "civil union" or other faux-marriage ceremony gay couples have invented over the years to try to legitimize their relationships in a society that regarded them with disdain if not outright condemnation. Our marriage would have the official seal of both a minister and of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And we'd receive that and much more: The warm wishes of family and close and distant friends, and even some strangers.

New rites at an old church. 
So here we were, at the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, about twenty miles northwest of Boston. It's one of those historic white clapboard churches in New England whose austere beauty and quaintness seem almost inconceivable outside of a Saturday Evening Post illustration. Though the present building went up in 1848, after the previous structure burned to the ground, the historic trail of the congregation goes back to 1683. It struck me as ironic that a new-fangled ceremony like a same-sex wedding should take place at such a historic venue.

Tree leaves had begun to change color. In case we lost our bearings along the way, highway signs pointed the way to Lexington and Concord, and even to an exit to Walden Pond should we have felt the need to channel Thoreau and ponder the meaning of life before or after our trip to the altar.

This is the kind of church that has its own Paul Revere bell (damaged and recast after the 1847 fire) that is activated by a rope hanging through the ceiling of the lobby. Turns out that after Revere's brief but notable career warning the locals about the oncoming Brits he set up a renowned foundry in Boston that cast bells destined for church steeples and other public buildings in many of the former thirteen colonies.

The floors of the austere, almost Shaker-like temple, were wide-plank wood that groaned softly with every footstep. Pews had small, rectangular boxes tucked underneath, decorated or upholstered in a variety of designs. "Kneelers?" I asked. Not by a mile. This is a Unitarian Universalist congregation where most members don't do kneeling and some even balk about too much talking about Him (or Her). The boxes are just footrests.

Hutchins organ, built in
1892 and recently rebuilt.
The gold-colored organ at the front dates back to 1892 and was recently restored, and an 1832 Willard clock at the back of the church still uses wooden gears to mark time, with some gentle coaxing from a member of the congregation. You can forgive this horological relic for losing about five minutes or so a week.

When we arrived at the church, past roadside stands of pick-your-own apples and mutant-size pumpkins, along with other end-of-season vegetables and fruits, two church volunteers were in the parking lot behind a makeshift table selling, yes, homemade apple pies.

The Rev. Thomas Rosiello, the minister of the church and who would later marry us, introduced us to the pie vendors who greeted and congratulated us with such warmth they could have been our own moms, except I'm not sure our real mothers would have reacted so effusively at the news of their sons marrying another man.

Perhaps they would have. My entire clan of Cuban relatives in Miami, including my step-mother, certainly treats Stew like one of the family, and we also received congratulatory e-mails from Stew's brother and his wife. Times change, sometimes astonishingly fast or slowly, depending on your perspective.

Provincetown Town Hall
Before this trip to the church, driving through this part of Americana that looked like a three-dimensional postcard, we had spent a few days in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, where we applied for our license, or "Intent to Marry Application," that had to be submitted and approved by the Town Clerk three days before the actual marriage.

Provincetown is beyond gay-friendly, even after the AIDS crisis killed a substantial proportion of the gay male population. Locals told us that gay women began to purchase some of the businesses previously owned by men which made lesbians more visible. Don't know if that anecdote is true but you certainly can't miss the large number of gay women and Subaru Outbacks in town.

A Provincetowner's idea of a garden water feature. 
It's certainly the place to apply for your marriage license. You'll be congratulated by the clerk in the Town Hall and anyone else waiting on line. No scowls, rolled-up eyes or judgmental glances from anyone.

No problemas except possibly from a homeless man who sat next to his shopping cart on the steps of city hall, better to evaluate the stream of passersby. "Stop holding hands, goddamn it!" he yelled at two amorous guys walking by. "You're starting to look like a couple of lesbians!"

We then spent our three-day waiting period on Cape Cod, including a side trip to Nantucket Island, just about the primmest enclave Stew and I had ever seen. The year-round population is only about ten thousand and tourist crowds were down as the nippy autumn breezes blew. Nantucket has a rough, workman history of fishing and whaling a few centuries ago but today it looks like a fantasy village designed by Ralph Lauren and managed by Martha Stewart who makes sure the flowers in all the window boxes are regularly deadheaded and puffed up.

A perfect Nantucket window box.
Stew and I had selected Massachusetts for our wedding because of the gay-friendliness of the state and particularly Provincetown, and some other serendipity. Mark and Tom, a gay couple who'd lived in Provincetown and now live in San Miguel, pointed us to the right people to call including the Town Clerk. Through a Unitarian congregation in San Miguel we had met Tom Rosiello and his partner Malcolm who offered to perform the service at the Stow church and celebrate the event with a lunch afterward.

We had thought of waiting for Illinois to approve marriage equality and have the service in Chicago but the requisite minority in the state house didn't materialize at the last minute during the last legislative session. So on to Massachusetts, which Stew had never visited anyway.

I had no notion of what to expect during the actual wedding ceremony which was small—the two grooms, the minister and a friend of the minister who took the pictures. That's about as small as a wedding party can get unless the minister is also one of the grooms and can officiate and say "I do" simultaneously.

Attire for the grooms was "snug business casual," as in suitcoats, dress shirts and pants that had been sitting idle in the closet since we retired eight years ago. It's amazing how garments can shrink while just hanging there.

A wedding candle to hold forever. 
Rev. Rosiello reviewed several options for the wording of the brief service. Stew and I settled on one that included a brief history—or celebration—of how fast the movement toward marriage equality had come in so few years, followed by a dedication for a couple that had already been in a long-term relationship, the vows and the exchange of rings. We also lit a wedding candle, which we're going to light at every anniversary from now on. I was so nervous I could barely repeat the vows or remember the actual order of service, except it was brief and beautiful. A copy of the service is coming and I will post it when I receive it.

On the way out of the church, the photographer grabbed the rope of the Paul Revere bell and gave it a few joyful yanks to let the world know that after forty-one years together Stew and Al had finally married. Rev. Rosiello and his partner Malcolm treated us to lunch at a restaurant on the site of a short-lived Utopian agrarian community established in 1842.

Rev. Tom Rosiello and the newlyweds. 
When we got back to Boston, Stew hugged me and said, "This was a perfect day."

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