Minnesota churches preparing for gay weddings

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2013 - 7:54 AM

With same-sex marriage about to become legal in the state, clergy are recrafting parts of the service.

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Karl Starr and Christopher Haug met with the Rev. D. Foy Christopherson to run through their wedding ceremony. They will be married by Christopherson at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. At top, the couple had rings made for their commitment ceremony 20 years ago.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE, Star Tribune

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Karl Starr and Christopher Haug pledged their love for each other on the altar of Central Lutheran Church — preparing for the day they will walk into Minnesota history.

The two men will be among the first wave of gay couples to wed legally in a church after Aug. 1, when same-sex couples can start getting married in Minnesota. On Wednesday, Starr and Haug rehearsed their Sept. 14 ceremony at the downtown Minneapolis church with the Rev. D. Foy Christopherson.

“We’ve both grown up Lutheran, and we’re not willing or ready to give that up ... this is our community,” said Haug, 56. “A lot of our friends are people we know through church. So we want them to be able to rejoice with us as well.”

Houses of worship that recognize same-sex unions are adjusting to the redefinition of marriage in Minnesota. The new dynamics require new language — no more “I now pronounce you man and wife” — and ceremonial changes.

For Christopherson, using the term “marriage” will be one of the biggest changes. Central Lutheran pastors have held religious “blessing” ceremonies for same-sex couples since about 2000.

The right choice of words is demanding attention by other churches as well.

At Edina Morningside Community Church, a United Church of Christ congregation, Pastor Rosemary Rocha will be performing her first same-sex marriage at the church next month. When talking to the two men who want to be married by her, Rocha says she asked them, “Do I pronounce you husband and husband? … I think we’re looking at I’m to pronounce them ‘married.’ ”

“I’ve been learning along the way,” Rocha added. “Because we don’t have a big population of LGBT people in our church, it’s important for me to educate and familiarize myself with some of the issues. You can’t just go assuming ... there are some things that might be the same for same-gender and male-female weddings. But what does it mean for a gay couple ... who have been in love, cared about people, and been denied this? ”

Not all churches agree

Religious ceremonies are typically not governed by state law, so Catholics and other churches that don’t recognize same-sex marriage are not required to marry gay couples — or any couples, for that matter. While gay couples can seek a civil marriage outside of religious venues, others want a legal marriage ceremony in a church.

Some of the more liberal-leaning mainstream Protestant churches recognize same-sex unions and have been performing religious “blessing” ceremonies for gay couples for years. But even within those denominations, there is not always consensus about whether to perform same-sex marriages.

In Minnesota, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is the state’s second-largest denomination with close to 800,000 followers. Bishops who lead the St. Paul and Minneapolis ELCA synods issued statements to congregations emphasizing that it’s up to congregations to decide whether they want to perform gay weddings. The bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota issued a similar message.

Bishop Bruce Caldwell, who leads St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, said the church set up a booth in Loring Park during the Pride Festival in June advertising that it would perform gay weddings. So far, about eight same-sex weddings are scheduled at the church, he said.

“These folks really do want to get married and commit their lives to one another in a faithful union before God,” Caldwell said.

Churches adapting

John Green, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio who has written extensively about politics and religion, said churches that recognize same-sex unions will adapt as time goes on.

“This often involves a process of education, since not all members of these congregations are equally comfortable with same-sex marriage,” he said.

“Other congregations are more subtle, allowing such ceremonies but without calling special attention to particular nuptials. Sometimes the clergy will perform the ceremony but not in a church building.

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  • Karl Starr and Christopher Haug had these rings made after their commitment ceremony. They will become legally married by Pastor Christopherson at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis in September. Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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