Feast Day of St. Aelred
Ten years into our relationship, Rosean and I were finally able to have a commitment ceremony. Our dear friend Ann Fontaine had been ordained a couple of years earlier, and she was willing to preside. We invited friends from both the Wyoming communities in which we had lived and family and other special people from all over. Our children came. And our first grandchild, age two, was the ring bearer.
At that time it was risky business for an Episcopal church to stand in support of a lesbian couple. Ann called our interim bishop to let him know she was going to perform the ceremony, not to get permission but so he would not be blindsided. He said he wished he had been braver about doing this. We held the ceremony in our home and advertised it as a house blessing.
To our surprise over eighty of the one hundred and ten people we had invited came. We were delighted and gratified – and a bit awed.
Our homilist was a lay preacher who was also a dear friend. She preached on the passage from the Book of Ruth which is today’s reading for the Feast Day of St. Aelred, who happens to be the patron saint of Integrity. “Where you go, I will go…” It’s used often for weddings, of course. It expresses the profound pledge of one person to another to change her whole life for the sake of the relationship. We liked it because it was one woman expressing her profound commitment to another. But that was as far as we had gone in thinking about it.
Sydne, our homilist, used this passage to speak for our community. On their behalf she made Ruth’s vow. And she made it to us. “Laurie and Rosean,” she said, “we will be your Ruth and you will be our Naomi. Where you go we will go. Where you lodge, we will lodge. Your people shall be our people and your God our God.”
In that era we were tired. We had been worn down by those Episcopalians in our diocese and beyond who were against our “lifestyle”. They behaved as if we had never done a moment’s worth of discernment to determine God’s will for us in how we handled our sexuality. They assumed that they knew God’s mind on the matter – and this despite the fact that they had hardly bothered to question their own understanding. They certainly weren’t willing to listen to our stories. We were treated like children – or like monsters trying to foist off a “gay agenda” on the naive and unsuspecting. It took a steely heart and a strong stomach to go to diocesan and national conventions to try to talk about our journeys in faith.
And here was Syd, expressing in a simple promise her willingness to trust us. Not only did she vow to embrace us as people who had done our work to determine God’s will for us, but she accepted our leadership in the matter. Where we went, our faith community would go. The teachings and invitations to new understanding with which we desired to spend time, they would spend time with also. Our people – all the different and oft times wounded souls, largely rejected by their families, their peers, their teachers, or their churches – this strange tribe of queer folk would belong to them. And the God who had spoken to us and showed us love and acceptance – that God would become their God. It was a promise to leave the home they had always known and to travel with us into brand new territory. It was a vow to be uprooted, uncomfortable, at sea – for us – trusting in us.
From that moment on I understood that this is what it means to be the people of God. Ruth is our spiritual ancestor. For the sake of our neighbors who are marginalized or oppressed, who see in a different way, who live in a different world from our white privileged one, we must open our hearts and pledge to follow them. We must leave behind the homes we have always known. We must listen to their stories and stand with them in their struggles. Their people must become our people. And we must trust that their relationships with God are every bit as powerful and profound and right as are our own. We must be their Ruth, and they our Naomi.