Alec Hamilton, Assistant Producer, WNYC News
Alec Hamilton is an Assistant Producer in the WNYC newsroom. She produces Morning Edition and starts her work day very, very early.
The most conservative Presbyterian Church on Manhattan’s West Side is preparing to host their first gay wedding.
Historically, West End Presbyterian Church on 105th Street has not taken an actively supportive position toward LGBT people. As other Presbyterian churches in the borough have adopted an advocacy stance towards the ordination of members of the LGBT community, West End has consistently voted against it, preferring to remain in line with more traditional Presbyterian values.
But last January, when a church member approached Reverend Alistair Drummond, the pastor of the church, to ask if his friends might hold their same-sex wedding in West End’s sanctuary, something surprising happened. The church’s board said yes, after much deliberation.
Minister Drummond said he believes the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state helped the board to approve the wedding.
"What's different about this is that there's a strong sense in the board that it's no longer an advocacy issue, it's an issue of social justice that's already established by the New York State law,” he said. “It's something that we can actually welcome and embrace just for what it is now, the New York State law.”
While the board had been uncomfortable taking a blanket advocacy position, Drummond added, they viewed this personal request differently.
So, this summer, Philadelphia couple Josh Yoder and Gene Terry will become the first same-sex couple to be wed in the church’s history. Yoder said he and his fiancé were surprised to find out that this had been a difficult decision for the church.
"I think at that point we both realized, we thought it was just going to automatically be okay. So it wasn't until kind of midway through the process that we realized this was going to be a big thing for the church," he recalled.
He said Drummond has been working with the couple to craft the right language for the ceremony.
"Trying to decide, you know, instead of man and wife do we want to be husbands in marriage or partners in marriage or so forth,” he said, adding it’s new territory for the couple and the pastor.
Yoder and Terry have been together for five years. They got engaged in New York, amid swirling ice skaters at Rockerfeller Center last winter. Shortly after their engagement, New York legalized same-sex marriage. Yoder said that clinched it for them. "The first thing on our minds was we gotta do this in New York."
(Photo: Josh Yoder, left, and his partner, Gene Terry, plan on getting married at West End Presbyterian Church./Courtesy of Josh Yoder)
Drummond believes that the tide may be turning for the church. Yet difficulties remain — there are indications from the national organization that ministers performing same-sex weddings are not to use the word marriage.
The minister said he still plans to use the word, despite concerns that the church could take action against him. Without the word “marriage,” he said, the ceremony would not be significantly different than before the law was passed.
"The word marriage grants all the legal aspects of equality, but it also speaks to the heart of the relationship," he said.
The wedding is planned to take place in the sanctuary this August.