Fifth Anniversary Celebration Presentation

by Ellie Charlton

"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.

I know it's politically correct to say "Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual" but my tongue gets all twisted. When I use the initials GLBT, I get them all mixed up because I want to put the L first. Some people use the term "queer," which I don't care for. Please know when I use the term "Gay," it's all inclusive.

We're here today to review the past five years and look to the future. But, first I want to take you back 20 years. A lot has been said about the relationship Jeanne and I had.

Don [Fado] said --"our love was an inspiration and our commitment a challenge. One lesbian couple told us they wanted a relationship just like ours.

I want you to know it didn't just happen ----- we worked on it. When we first decided to make a life commitment to each other, Jeanne said she knew a woman in Lodi (Marion Cross) that conducted enrichment weekends for clergy couples. Would I be interested if she would do one for lesbian couples? I agreed, Marion agreed, and we had our first one before we had been together a year. During our 20 years together, we participated in 6 such events. We also attended a 6 week class on Marriage Insurance here at St. Mark's. Jeanne said --- people attend training and workshops to do better at their job and for their volunteer work. Why wouldn't you spend time working on your relationship? -- What's more important than that?

One time beside Jeanne and I we had only two other couples both living in Stockton. And Marian was in Lodi. One of the women was on call in case there was a problem with the dykes - also known as levies. Remember the floods of 1987? Highways 5 and 99 going south were both washed out. Determined to not cancel the weekend event, Jeanne and I drove through Jackson to get to Stockton.

Some of you clergy may remember a big flack when Bishop [Leontine] Kelly had to go to the southern part of our conference to "Put out the Fire" so to speak. That was over one of our Enrichment Weekends. -- That's a long story. But not today.

After the Holy Union, Jeanne and I once again decided to organize 'Enrichment Weekends' for Lesbian and Gay couples. After the second one, we decided we were spending way too much energy trying to get gay men to attend. So it's back to -- Enrichment Weekend for Lesbians. May of this year will be the last one. If youare interested, please pick up a flyer from downstairs.


Come with me now to 1995 -- nine years ago this weekend.

Jeanne was the co-spokesperson and I was the treasurer for Affirmation when the National Council met in Las Vegas. That was when Jeanne's health took a drastic turn downward. She had a stroke and was hospitalized in Las Vegas for 3 days. After Jeanne died, someone said to me that her death was so sudden.

It really wasn't. Jeanne was a private person and didn't want anybody to 'make a fuss' over her. Many of you didn't know about that stroke or that Jeanne was diabetic, had high blood pressure, was legally blind for the past five years, and had a heart attack two years ago.

I haven't shared this with anyone before. But, when I told Don Fado that we wanted to have a Holy Union, I knew Jeanne's health was bad and I wanted to have a service before it was too late. Many of you may remember that Jeanne was in a wheelchair during the reception and also at Annual Conference that year.

Immediately after the service, we were whisked outdoors to greet the people from the circle of love. When we got back up on the stage for the news conference, Jeanne was shaking and said I can't stand up any longer. As I was holding her up I told her to hang on just a few more minutes and hollered over my shoulder "get that wheelchair ready."

When a reporter asked, "What makes this such a big deal?" Jeanne responded " I don't know! Why are you here?" It was the first time in 4 years Jeanne was her 'old self', - sharp and with a quick wit. That was a real turning point for Jeanne. After that she continued to improve, both mentally and physically.

I've been told that Jeanne and I were two of the most naive people they knew. You see it didn't cross our minds when we told Don we wanted a Holy Union that several things might make this a BIG DEAL.

*Jeanne was currently the Conference Lay Leader.
*I was on the Conference Board of Trustees.
*We had both worked on the Capitol Funds Campaign, "Expanding our Vision," in which we had contact with each church in our conference. All clergy and many lay.
*Jeanne had chaired the Reconciling Conference Committee for years.
*I had been Chair of the Conference Commission on the Status and Role
of Women and a district officer in United Methodist Women.
*We were both on the District Superintendence committee.
*We had been active in National Affirmation for many years and had both been on the National Affirmation Council.
*Jeanne had been on the National Church committee to study Homosexuality and made a presentation to General Conference. She was a delegate to General Conference.
*Jeanne had held a very high position with the state of California before her retirement and was well known throughout the state.
*We had both been active in local gay and lesbian organizations.
*And there was a state election coming up soon concerning
gay rights and marriage.

None of that crossed our minds at the time that it might make this a big deal.

What we did know was that the church had made a very big mistake when they ruled that clergy could not perform holy unions. Because of that our Holy Union might be a big deal in the church - we sure hoped so.

As the event grew and grew we wanted four things to happen as a result of the Holy Union:

All four happened happened plus

Three more unexpected.

When the Rev. Don Fado preached his famous or infamous sermon on October 4 1998, saying that he wanted to perform a gay commitment service publicly with other clergy participating, we didn't know it, but our lives were about to change. Jeanne wasn't feeling well on October 4th, so we were not in church that day and missed the sermon. Soon friends were calling to tell us about it. The following week Don called for another matter and we started talking about his idea. I told Don that Jeanne and I had never had a service and we would like to have one. Don said why don't you talk it over with Jeanne and get back to me. I turned to Jeanne-- sitting close by-- and asked her if we needed to talk this over and she said no. I told Don this is what we want to do we don't need to talk it over.

We met with Don about a week later and set the date. The following day we went to a Conference Reconciling Congregation gathering in San Jose. We invited everyone there to the Holy Union and told the clergy if they wanted to co-officiate to contact Don.

We went from there to Cambria to visit a friend who was dying of cancer and then over to my mom's in Fresno on the way home. I told my mom that I thought I should let her know, - before she heard it from someone else,- that we were going to have a Holy Union with several clergy co-officiating. She asked if it would be on TV. I said -- "Oh no! I don't think so, but it might be in the news paper."

When we arrived home, 10 days after that meeting in San Jose, our answering machine was loaded with messages. We had all kinds of congratulations and requests for interviews.

We had thought we would have the Holy Union here at St. Mark's but soon Don was telling us that St. Mark's wouldn't be big enough. So a search was on for a suitable location. . . large. . . secure. . . and gay accepting. Every church in the Sacramento area-- all denominations large enough for the event -- turned us down.

By the way even after we decided where to have it and sent out invitations, the location was changed, just 10 days before the event. . . . That's another long story for another day.

For the next 18 to 24 months our lives were a whirlwind of activity. Before the Holy Union, we had many requests for interviews and photo shoots-- newspapers and television. The Bishop and ministry staff took us to dinner.

The owner of our park called with concern about our safety after a reporter printed where we lived-- even after I asked him not to. My daughter asked if we were afraid. A lot of kooks out there. We were lucky we only received 2 nasty calls. And Don was good enough to filter out the bad e-mails.

After the Holy Union - We were:
*On a talk show in Oakland
*On a panel for 2 classes at California State University Sacramento
*Interviewed for an article in the Advocate - a Gay magazine
*Involved in the "No on Knight" initiative
*And we testified at the Clergy Hearings in Fairfield

We were given special recognition every time we visited a church in our conference. Some had receptions for us and at some we showed the video and told stories about the Holy Union.

It started with a reception here at St. Mark's a week after the Holy Union. Other churches we visited:

We were given many special honors and awards.

I tried to go through my calendar for the past 5 years. So I could list them all. Have you ever tried to do that? My goodness, it looked like a foreign language. Stuff in there I had no idea what it was. I'll do my best to list them all, but I know I'll miss some. For the sake of time I will only name the group or the church - not the award given.


While in Southern California we visited Claremont UMC. After being treated to lunch we met with a group at the church and showed the video.

And at Hollywood United Methodist Church, after the childrens hour, the children presented us each with a miniature rose bush and a special card they had written.

In Montana for a wedding at a United Methodist church. With some trepidation, (you never know what response you'll get), we stuck out heads in the pastor's office after the ceremony and told him his new bishop was coming from our conference and asked him to tell Bishop Warner Brown 'Hi' for us. He picking up his pencil and said: "let me write this down so I don't forget. Just tell him the couple that caused a fuss in our conference. He'll know who we are. He jumped up from his desk and came over to give us a hug and said he was so glad to meet us that some of the folks in his congregation were going to be real sad they missed us.

At General Conference in Ohio we met one of the co-officiants in absentia from Montana. Jeanne said I have family in Montana. Turned out he performed the wedding years ago for Jeanne's sister.

We met the couple who got married on the same day as our Holy Union and lit a purple candle for us during their service.

Remember the woman in Virginia that rang her garden bell and played "Ode to Joy" over her back yard loud speaker at the appointed time? I visited her and saw the 'garden bell'

Many people have come up to us through the past five years and told us they were watching and cheering us on. Some we knew from years past, work etc. and some strangers.

People would come up and say " I just want to give you two a hug."

After two years, things finally slowed down. Even after that we never went to a church meeting out of town or a Gay event that someone didn't come up and thank us and give us a hug.

Jeanne and I agreed that it was probably for the best that we were the ones that did this. We were retired and had the time and a new relationship might not have survived the stress of it all.

And finally. . .

In the January 2000 Frontiers Newsmagazine - a gay publication, we shared the cover with Gov. Davis, the Pope and Tinky Winky.

I've asked Faith to share some things for me. This is part of what Faith shared. Starting to get ready for today [the fifth anniversary celebration], Jeanne wrote the following a few days before she died:

"When we first got together we discussed whether to have holy union or not. Deciding only a couple of friends and none of our family would come, we decided not to have a ceremony. Then years later, we heard of Rev. Don Fado's sermon. After the Judicial Council's decision, we told him we would be his couple. We met about 10 days later, set the date and started making plans. What an experience. All we know is our commintment for each other is deeper, richer, and more importment than ever before.

To express that to all is a very special blessing.

Jeanne and Ellie"

I've been so blessed to have Jeanne in my life for 20 years. How did I get so lucky?

When I was going through Jeanne's stuff after she died I found a small piece of paper that read " Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

I do a lot of both.

Posted with the permission of Ellie Charlton.

See Also

*Visit our archives online for more articles at the time of this historic event: