STATEMENT MADE TO MEMBERS OF CHRIST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, COLUMBIA, MARYLAND, MARCH 26, 1999
Many of you are aware of deep divisions within our United Methodist Church denomination regarding the blessing of same-gender relationships. Because any United Methodist clergyperson must make decisions on which relationships to bless, either through a wedding or some other celebration of union, clergy cannot avoid making decisions regarding same-gender relationships. Heretofore I have not made any statement regarding what I would do in a certain situation because my own commitment has always been to first meet a couple and see what they are about before coming to any conclusion on whether I should be involved in celebrating their union. Also, since I do not serve as pastor of a church, I only perform one or two weddings a year in any event.
The current situation where Pastor Gregory Dell is facing a church trial at this moment for having performed a service of holy union for two men in Chicago, and 69 United Methodist clergy are now facing charges for having blessed the union of two women in California makes it difficult for me to continue to be silent on this matter.
I have therefore, today, added my name to the list of those who have signed the following statement, and who will, if called upon, lead a service celebrating a relationship which is intentional, loving and committed, regardless of gender.
Two understandings of mine are important here.
First, with respect to marriage, the church has historically understood marriage as a service in which the couple themselves are the ministers; it is they who create the relationship and the marriage. The role of clergy is expert witness; it is the couple who make something happen, and it is the clergy who discern what is happening and announce to all present that something is happening. From this perspective, neither clergy nor the church have power to create a covenantal relationship or to prevent a relationship; they only have the power--and the obligation--to tell the truth about what they see God doing before their eyes. The United Methodist Discipline, by words inserted in 1996, says, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." But I accepted ordination, and the duty to be in ministry to all people, and the duty to tell the truth about what I see God doing, before these words were added, and that duty must take priority.
Secondly, with respect to blessing, Christians do not bless something by saying magical words over it. We bless something by giving thanks for it. The model for Christian blessing is in the eucharist, where our gifts are taken to the altar, and by thanksgiving placed in their proper relationship to God, and then, because their proper relationship to God has been restored, these gifts are transformed and become a source of blessing and nourishment for all to share. It is understood in the eucharist that our gifts are from the stuff of our lives, they are not perfect; it is by thanksgiving that God transforms them into perfection. In the blessing of a relationship, a couple say thanks for a relationship, and the clergy say Amen to their thanksgiving. What right does any leader of any church have to deny anyone the right to say thank you to God for what God has given them? I certainly claim no such right, and if a sincere, loving and committed couple regardless of gender seek the participation of me as clergy to share in thanksgiving for their relationship, I do not feel I could say no.
Jackson H. Day
March 26, 1999
(As clergy on Honorable Location, I am not a clergy member of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, but rather a clergy member of the Christ United Methodist Church charge conference within the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and as such, am subject to annual review and approval of my character by the Baltimore-Washington Conference.)