Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Equality Comes to Michigan -- Part 3: Meaningful Helpers

Before I write about the the marriages, and what a joy that was -- I want to write about the helping things that people did, because they made a huge difference.

At the Washtenaw County Clerk's office, there were about twenty clergy and judges present ready to marry people, and they came from all sorts of different faiths.  There were a few of us Unitarian Universalists (the Rev. Gail Geisenhainer, the Rev. Tom Schade, and myself, and the Rev. Mark Evens was there at the beginning).  I saw several UCC ministers.  There was a rabbi.  There were three Pagan officiants of various stripes.  There was a Native American officiant.  There was an Episcopal priest.  I'm sure other Protestant denominations were present.  And then there were a handful or more of Universal Life Church members.

Now, I've always had a sort of a "thing" about ULC ministers.  It's always seemed a bit unfair or wrong that without any training and any credentialing process, people can hang out a shingle and do what I do, into which I put 5 years of training into and tens of thousands of dollars (which I'm still paying off).  And perhaps a bit of my sore attitude is due to my own ULC ordination.  When I was doing my CPE (hospital chaplaincy) during seminary, some of the other CPE students ordained me through the ULC as a joke -- making fun of UUism, basically.  They went online, put in my name, and voila, I was an ordained ULC minister.  I keep the certificate, which they printed off and framed, by my desk even today.   

Well, I was about to get "schooled" in the commitment and dedication -- and love -- of ULC ministers.  And now I'm proud to be one.

I was sitting next to a ULC minister named Ted Van Roekel, mentioned here. Ted had come not knowing if any other clergy would be there, and he had come with enough papers that he could have performed all the marriages if he needed to.  At the table perpendicular to mine were three more ULC ministers.  One, Naomi, had just become ordained for this particular purpose, or so I heard through a friend of a friend.  She is Jewish, and had asked her rabbi, the one who was present, if this was a way that would be appropriate for her to help out.  He had agreed, and so she came.  Between her and myself was another ULC minister.  She had a full day's schedule and had to come and go, but she contacted Thomas Dowds, who came with a case of water for us.  The room was hot, and after a while those performing the most weddings were getting parched, so the water was a real blessing.  Even more special, however, Thomas brought two large sheet cakes for wedding cakes so that all the couples could have some wedding cake. 

Back to Ted: Ted didn't know who might come, so he created a plan.  He put out a request for friends to come and help -- to work as runners, to serve as witness.  And he asked particularly for two friends of his, Annette Bowman and Matt Klinske, to come and take photographs.  Annette served as wedding photographer for 32 weddings that day, and took down each couple's emails on a sheet of paper so that she could e-mail them later.  She took over 600 photographs and processed them for over four hours on Sunday, and still wasn't done.  By Tuesday evening, she had sent me pictures of the ceremony I performed that she photographed, which was near the end of the period.

There were so many clergy present that those of us who didn't have a church in the area were not in high demand.  I performed two ceremonies.  Ted performed two ceremonies.  When he did the first one, he was nervous and even shaking from excitement and joy.  I understood -- I had felt the same way minutes before when I performed my first ceremony of the day, even though I performed legal marriages in Massachusetts a decade ago.  I helped by filling out his paperwork as he did the ceremony, just as some of the other ULC ministers had done while I performed a ceremony. 

It was these special touches -- the photographers, the cakes, and the buckets of flowers that somebody else brought -- that built a community around these people.  Ann Arbor Unitarian Universalists were part of building that community, too.  They came to celebrate and form religious community, folks like Kathy and Jon McLean, wearing their Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts and standing as the congregation for wedding after wedding that Gail performed.  Beloved Community was created in Ann Arbor on Saturday.  And I am still in awe and tears about the caring and dedication of all these people, who came and helped and celebrated because they were standing on the side of love.

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