January 18, 2004

Sacramento Holy Union Fifth Anniversary Celebration

Reflections by the Rev. Don Fado

"A Fifth Anniversary Festival Celebration of the Holy Union of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton" was held at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, California on January 17, 2004.

Saturday's 5th anniversary celebration of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton's holy union was fantastic. Over 300 of us gathered for the festivities.

Mary Ann Tolbert gave a challenging speech which I urge everyone to read. She will put it on the web site for The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion.

Ellie shared intimate moments with us remembering Jeanne. Jeanne's death was not sudden. Her health had been bad for years; she has been legally blind for the past five years. Ellie wanted the holy union to be celebrated before Jeanne's death. Faith Whitmore read testimonies from people about Jeanne's impact on them.

We also heard a litany of affirmations written in letters after the holy union. An example is the following which was received from Morse Saito, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Palmore Institute in Kobe Japan. He wrote, "Thank you for performing the Holy Union ceremony of something truly beyond any of us: the holy union granted by God to Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett. You brought our church closer to God. I am the last UMC missionary in Kobe, Japan. I am in "active- retired" status doing what I have been doing for most of the past 50 years. If our church throws anyone out, please list me with you and the 90 who stood with you."

Bud Tillinghast and Chuck Myer's reader's theater drama, "Those Whom God Hath Joined" was well received. It is ideal for a sermon time for any church with at least 6 people to read the parts. The script and background materials are available on Bud's web site. Let Bud or Chuck know if you use it. It is so relevant to the national debate about gay marriage and the defense of marriage act.

Lake Merritt United Methodist Church showed us what a local church can do to educate people on what is happening. They did excerpts from their reader's theater drama, "Intimate Investigations," based upon the testimonies given at the Fairfield hearings for the Sacramento 68, written and directed by Cindy Marano. A DVD video and background materials are available from the church.

We were bonded together as we were led in singing by the Strathdees and we wept and laughed as they sang their "The Ballad of Ellie and Jeanne," which was written for the holy union. The St. Mark's Dance choir stirred our emotions with their graceful expressions of movement.

It was good to hear from people in various leadership positions as they briefly told of the challenge of where we go from here: Elizabeth Brick, chair of our Conference Committee on Reconciliation, Peggy Gaylord, spokesperson for Affirmation, and Troy Plummer, the new Executive Director for the Reconciling Ministries Network who shared plans for witness at General Conference. We saw the stoles being made by the Reconciling Parents Network for General Conference.

Karen Dammann, UMC pastor from Ellensburg, Washington and her partner Meredith Savage and their son Beckett were with us. Karen, who will be facing trial in the coming weeks for being a United Methodist clergy who is a lesbian, shared some of her struggles. She attributed her staying in the ministry and holding her orders to the Auers and people at San Raphael UMC. As Mary Ann Tolbert told us, we are to "fight the good fight" and Karen faces such a fight. Karen Oliveto, national co-chair of Reconciling Ministries Clergy led us in prayer for Karen Dammann and her family - and the church.

We had a time of remembrance for Jeanne Barnett and co-officiants who have died: Howard Acton, Mona Dyer, Rolfe Conrad, Cliff Crummey and George McLane. We also remembered Bishop Marvin Stuart who courageously stood for us, whose memorial service was also Saturday in Palo Alto. The dance choir carried lighted candles symbolizing each life and placed them on a triangular candleholder on the altar which we sang "The Light Shines in the Darkness." We also had prayers for Don Cunningham and his family who were out of the state attending the memorial service for their son, Ron, who was killed in an auto accident. Don had planned to be with us.

Clergy and laity co-officiants from the holy union were honored, as well as all who attended the holy union - and all who attended the 5th Anniversary Celebration. The Holy Spirit blew through the congregation and our faith, for many of us, was rekindled and burns more brightly.

Posted with the permission of the Rev. Don Fado.

See Also

*Visit our archives on-line for more articles at the time of this historic event: