Linda [left] and Elli at their covenant service. Click any photo for larger pictures.
In 1996, The United Methodist Church declared that "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches" ("Social Principles," The Book of Discipline 1996, ¶ 65c).
On Friday, August 27, 1999, Linda E. Enger and Eleanora N. Piombino of Houston celebrated their love and commitment at a covenant service that took place on the street in front of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Houston, TX.
The worship service of blessing was not held in the church building because of denomination's statement that "homosexual unions" shall not be conducted in its churches.
A procession carrying a Christ candle, the cross, Bible, and church's banners descends from the church steps to the street, where the covenant service is held.
When the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was forbidden to use the pulpits of Anglican churches, he took to the streets, fields, and church yards in Great Britain and boldly preached the Gospel. Likewise, Enger and Piombino, forbidden to use the sanctuary of their church, took to the streets to celebrate their longstanding committed relationship of 25 years to each other.
The Reverend Marilyn Meeker-Williams is the senior pastor and Bruce Felker the associate who are appointed by Bishop Hearn to serve the congregation. Troy Plummer is Director of Program Ministries. An ordained Orthodox Catholic priest and "hired staff" of Bering Memorial UMC, the Rev. Plummer officiated at the celebration.
The Reverend Marilyn Meeker-Williams [right], senior pastor of Bering Memorial UMC, prohibited by the United Methodist Social Principles to celebrate this holy events, stands on the church's steps watching the procession.
Troy was raised a United Methodist and went to seminary but could not be ordained because he is gay. He turned to the Orthodox Catholic Church, which ordains both women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. He serves under a woman Bishop-- who affirmed his participation in this service.
During the celebration, a number of clergy "witnesses" stood on the church steps in front of its colonial pillars. They were United Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox Catholic, Baptist, Unitarian, Unity, Lutheran and United Church of Christ. One of these witnesses was the Reverend Judith Stone of the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference. She is a member of the "Sacramento 68," who co-officiated at a holy union for Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton in Sacramento in January 1999.
The Reverend Meeker-Williams [left] and other clergy witness the Service of Christian Marriage performed by Rev. Troy Plummer.
Judith shared this observation with CORNET afterward, saying, "Marilyn is a very warm, quiet-spoken, centered and powerful presence in that way she is like Jimmy Creech. She surprises you in her extraordinary-ordinariness and her faith-power. I dearly loved her. Bruce Felker is also a very centered, warm-hearted, easy-going, grounded Pastor longtime United Methodist pastor. Bruce's wife Mimi is a retired ESL treacher from Arkansas originally.... Mimi was a church spokesperson to the press. I found all these folks committed, kind, impressive, filled with a spirit of welcome and hospitality. And very Methodist."
Elli smiles at Linda. The couple exchanged rings saying "All that I am and all that I have I share with you."
The service and the couple's vows were traditional. One of the brides read a passage of Scripture from Ruth, the familiar "Entreat me not to leave you... your people shall be my people, your God my God." The community was asked if its would do everything in it power to uphold and care for these two persons in their marriage. The community said, "We will. We rejoice in your union and pray God's Blessing upon you." (The clergy on the steps did not participate; they were witnesses to the exile by the church.)
According to the Reverend Stone, "At the most dramatic parts of the service, I kept hearing a resounding chorus of bell-like sounds. I thought since Troy was Orthodox Catholic, it was that tinkling chorus of light bells, often heard in Catholic ceremonies. Then I realized the trees were filled with birds, who would begin to sing together at a fevered pitch that sounded like a mighty rustling of tiny bells during especially meaningful parts of the ceremony. It was overwhelming. One of the places they really began to chorus was at the reading of this scripture. . .about not hiding one;s light under a bushel but putting it on a stand giving light to all in the house. . . 'all in the house'-- I heard as all Creation. Very mystical."
After the service, the Christ candle, cross and Bible were brought back into the church. Troy Plummer left. He did not attend or participate in the Vesper Service. The clergy witnesses held the doors open for anyone in the community to come in for Vespers led by Marilyn Meeker-Williams.
Elli and Linda were the first to kneel at the communion rail and be served at the celebration of the Eucharist. They came to Judith Stone's station. They looked at her rainbow stole and smiled. The Reverend Stone reflects, "I felt that stole was its own a silent witness, a brilliant rainbow and the words "Living in God's Love".... blessing them. Except for the stole, I felt sad serving them. It would most appropriately have been Marilyn and Bruce. The whole of both services was filled with beauty, mystical moments, joy for Ellie and Linda, and also deep sorrow for the state of the church...."
After the two worship services, Linda and Elli share a toast to their continuing love and commitment at the reception.
CORNET wishes all the best to Linda Enger and Eleanora Piombino. May God's blessings continue to flow over them and Bering Memorial United Methodist Church.
Troy Plummer's stole was designed and made by a dear friend of Linda and Elli's. The icons are symbolic of the church and Elli's and Linda's life. See also: what happened to his stole after the service.
The photographs by Don Acton and Wayne Woodard, members at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, are courtesy of Linda Enger and used by permission.