Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Marriage in New Hampshire

photo by Edith Tucker

New Hampshire Lakes and Mountains reports on one of the first weddings in NH since the new law took effect:
BERLIN — An historic first took place on Saturday, Jan. 2, in the "City that Trees Built."

Elizabeth "Betsy" Hess and the Rev. Eleanor "Ellie" McLaughlin, both of Randolph, were wed in a civil ceremony near the entrance to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on High Street.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, blessed their rings and their Christian marriage at the altar. The blessing ceremony followed the civil marriage ceremony, which was jointly performed by Randolph Town Clerk Anne Kenison and Justice of the Peace Anne Jackson of Lancaster.

Here is how Betsy describes it:
It was a glorious occasion. We had an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come, and about 170 turned up. We usually have about 25-30 for church on Sunday, to place it in context.

Ellie wrote the civil part of the ceremony, which took place at the back of the church, including (subtly tongue in cheek) the state's commitment to uphold our marriage. We then had a grand procession, begun with children waving streamers as "The Winter Wind of the Holy Spirit". After all, she doesn't only come as toasty flames at Pentacost! In the same vein, we didn't have flowers for the witnesses (aka bride's maids and groomsmen, but wouldn't that have been bizzare) and family. Instead Ellie blessed off-white pashminis and we draped them around the neck of each of them, in the fashion of tibetan white prayer scarves, honoring and blessing our love for them and their support of us over the years. We also had, as the cover graphic on the service leaflet, a copy of a second century symbol of the early church, two harts looking longingly at a ewer of water. The early church associated "Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks" with the faithful catechumens yearning for baptism.

20 musical friends from all over provided the choir, along with our wonderful organist Susan Ferre, and her husband Charlie Lang on the Viola da Gamba. We used Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine" and Mozart's "Ave Verum" for anthems. Old choral chestnuts needed to be the order of the day, as the choir had only 90 minutes to rehearse before the ceremony. But what splendid chestnuts they are, and beautifully performed! After our vows at the altar and the Bishop pronouncing us married, Ellie and I sang a Southern harmony hymn "We'll never grow old" in harmony (It's on the Anonymous 4 Southern Harmony CD). We both love to sing and it was our faithful declaration that we are married for eternity.

There was an undertone throughout, of the long wait and sacrifice needed for GLBT to finally be accepted by the church. The second reading was the one from Revelations used at funerals, with God finally wiping every tear from our eyes. And this was clearly a winter wedding from the winter of our lives, not the spring wedding of young people.

Bishop Gene Robinson preached a wonderful sermon. He started by praising St. Barnabas, Berlin for taking a chance on calling an openly partnered, lesbian Rector Ellie, followed by a second lesbian Rector, Fran Gardner. He noted that it is a challenge for us to contend with the label "That gay church" as we reach out to the community. But he also praised us for reaching out to everyone in our area, the poor, the mentally challenged, the seekers, the teens, etc. He then took back the fundamentalists' warped interpretation of Adam and Eve, by claiming the true need of humankind for companionship, someone with whom lovingly to share our journeys.

The whole thing was a wonderful hour and a half liturgy. Those who were Episcopalians loved it, and those who weren't experienced an opportunity to experience Christianity in action, in a different way than they see in the Media.

One of the joys of living in a small town is that all involved with this event are our friends, or at least know of us. Some barely know us, but told us they came to show their support for the new gay marriage law in New Hampshire. Friends catered the food. Friends decorated the church hall. Fran Gardner spent 25 hours putting together the 23 page worship leaflet after Ellie and the Bishop fashioned the liturgy. The organist spent enormous time on the music and gathering the singers out of chaos into a fine ensemble. The florist who routinely provides the Sunday flowers for St. Barnabas told the Rector she was givng us white flowers for this Sunday so they could be used for the wedding as well. The check out clerk at Wal-Marts, a total stranger to me, when I got the bagels to feed the choir at 8:30 Saturday morning said "Oh, you're getting married today. If only I weren't working, I'd be there!"

Ellie has always told me that a sacrament is powerful in part because it upholds and blesses before God a Holy reality that already exists. There is an advantage to marrying after 19 years. The truth of our love, and the truth of our blessed "company of strangers" who have become fast friends over the years, has become highly potent and sweet over all that time.

I rejoice on behalf of all of you, as well as for us, that there is a "sweet, sweet Spirit" blowing in our church and in our world. And if it is perhaps a cold winter wind--still, how bracing, crisp and fresh. God bless us, everyone!

Betsy Hess
Berlin, NH


Grandmère Mimi said...

Sounds like a lovely ceremony. I pray that Betsy and Ellie have many more blessed and happy years together.

JCF said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful---and blessed. Mazel Tov! :-D