After 53 years, Evans and Harris pack the church for their wedding

Methodist ministers from around the Meteroplex and as far away as Austin attended the wedding of Jack Evans and George Harris at Midway Hills Christian Church.

Harris and Evans are members of Northaven United Methodist Church. The denomination does not allow same-sex weddings to be performed in their churches or Methodist ministers to perform those ceremonies.

The Rev. Bill McElvaney, who is retired, announced at Northaven on Jan. 15 that he would perform same-sex weddings.

On Saturday afternoon, McElvaney walked down the aisle but sat as he officiated, because he had a round of chemotherapy just days before. He sounded strong and brought the crowd of several hundred to their feet several times as he blessed the couple who has been together 53 years.

The issue of same-sex marriage is dividing the United Methodist Church and has heated up since the Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked last fall for performing his son’s wedding.

“It’s not my intent to politicize this marriage,” McElvaney said during the wedding. “But…”

With news cameras from most local stations at the church and four stories about the wedding in the Dallas Morning News, there was little doubt the wedding was political.

“Jack and George are challenging the United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church,” McElvaney said.

He said he wanted to correct any news reports that said he was a willing participant.

“I’m privileged to be part of it,” he said.

The Rev. Arthur Stewart, pastor of Midway Hills, said he got calls from other pastors of his denomination as news broke about the wedding at his church. He was told that what he was doing was a disgrace to the denomination. He answered that it would be a disgrace if he didn’t welcome the couple to his church. Midway Hill is a member of The Chistian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“When it comes to justice, our doors are always open,” Stewart said.

The Rev. Sid Hall is the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin. He said he performed a number of same weddings at his church between 1992, when his church because a reconciling congregation, and 1996, when the United Methodist Church outlawed the practice. Since then, his church has performed no weddings, gay or straight.

Since then, he said, a number of same-sex weddings have been performed in churches around Texas, just nothing as open and public as this event.

Hall speculated what his and every other congregation would be without their LGBT members, gay music directors and organists.”

“Worship would suck,” Hall said.

He wouldn’t speculate on whether charges would be brought against McElvaney or not. Anyone within the denomination may file a complaint, he explained, and the local bishop may decide to elevate the complaint to charges.

Hall, however, thought there couldn’t be a worse case than this one for the church to use as an example — a pastor in his 80s undergoing chemotherapy celebrating the lives of a couple that’s been together longer than most straight couples.

McElvaney said he wouldn’t speculate about whether charges will be filed.

“It’s their business what they do,” McElvaney said. “And I’ll deal with it.”

At the reception, held at Northaven United Methodist Church, McElvaney had one wish for Harris and Evans.

“Continued joy, health and happiness,” he said.

Evans and Harris don’t think things will be much different now that they’re married. Harris said they’re not planning to have kids.

“Hell, he won’t even let me have a dog,” Harris said.

—  David Taffet

‘A roomful of silent witnesses’

NO LONGER SILENT | The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, assistant professor at Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, donated his stole to the Shower of Stoles project in 2001. He added the line of bells along the bottom so that he would never again be silent about his sexual orientation.

Collection of stoles from LGBT clergy on display at Northaven UMC, including stole from local minister Stephen Sprinkle

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Shower of Stoles — a portion of which is now on display at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas — is a collection of liturgical stoles from LGBT religious leaders representing about 30 Jewish and Christian denominations from six countries on three continents.

Stoles are the religious garb worn by clergy around the neck, usually over a clerical robe. This collection, started by a lesbian minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose ordination was threatened when she came out, is designed to “connect with people emotionally,” creating an impact similar to that of the NAMES Project AIDS Memoral Quilt, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Voelkel said the collection is an important artifact of the ongoing battle for ordination equality in mainstream churches.

In 1993, Voelkel explained, the Presbyterian Church called for a three-year period of open dialogue on human sexuality. The Rev. Martha Juillerat, a Presbyterian minister from rural Missouri, participated by traveling around her district participating in dozens of conferences and opening dialogues in churches throughout the area.

Despite the invitation to come out, there was no guarantee that Juillerat wouldn’t face repercussions.

And in fact, she did.

Voelkel said that when the Presbyterian Church threatened to revoke Juillerat’s ordination in 1995, she put word out for other LGBT clergy to send her their stoles and stories. Within a week she had 75.

When Presbytery officials gathered to discuss her case, “she lined the room with stoles,” Voelkel said.

Within a few weeks the collection had grown to more than 200.

After Juillerat retired, she donated the collection to the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, which now maintains it. The collection has grown to about 1,200 pieces.

Today, parts of the collection are exhibited in about 100 places each year. Voelkel said that some churches use the display as part of the welcoming process, but others bring in the collection before they are even ready to talk about it.

She called it “a roomful of silent witnesses.”

Those witnesses can have an impact. Just last week, 18 years later Juillerat’s fight, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow ordination of LGBT clergy.

A display of 50 stoles will be on exhibit at Northaven United Methodist Church through June 5, said the Rev. Eric Folkerth. The church is a welcoming congregation with a large LGBT membership. Northaven is also a beneficiary of the Black Tie Dinner.

Folkerth said his church has hosted the exhibit before: “It was very moving and an inspiring thing to see.”

While other churches use the collection to begin a dialogue, Folkerth said, “This is a reminder that we are so blessed.”

Folkerth said that in terms of creating change, it would be better for the stoles to be somewhere else. But, “It’s important to remind ourselves what’s going on in the rest of the church.”

Among the stoles in the collection is one from the Rev. Steven Sprinkle, an associate professor at Texas Christian University. In his accompanying story, Sprinkle said that he served several congregations as a single person. Congregants suspected he was gay and he was targeted with graffiti on his house and had his car ties slashed.

“In an attempt to drive me away, my pet Basset hound, Beau, and my English bulldog, Buck, were butchered and hung up in the back yard of my parsonage,” Sprinkle said. “There was a lot of fear in my life.”

But Sprinkle said he didn’t run. Instead he came out after a close friend told him, “If there are no secrets, Steve, there can be no ambushes.”

Shower of Stoles exhibit, Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sun. 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. through June 5. 214-363-2479. Northaven.org.

—  John Wright