Reverend Robyn Provis says, “Being gay and Christian, and doing the kind of work we do at Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)—it’s a big ol’ duh. We don’t invite gender-queer and allies here despite their being gay. They’re here because they are gay.”
Provis is a Pastor at All God’s Children (AGC) MCC, which describes itself as “a Christian Church celebrating God’s inclusive love for all.”
As is her wont, Provis demystifies the lofty prose: “Years ago, we were known as the gay church. Then, during the AIDS years, we were known as the AIDS church. Now, we are known not only as a human rights church, but as a movement of churches and faith leaders who are built on God’s radical and inclusive love. We’re always trying to help people reconnect the dots on a God and a way of being a person of faith that maybe wasn’t the way they were raised.”
AGCMCC is part of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, (UFMCC) founded in 1968, which is the largest GLBT Christian organization in the world. AGC is the largest MCC such congregation in the Upper Midwest, with 350 members attending regularly. But these worshippers aren’t passive congregants who feel obliged to show up at church, and strain to stay awake for an hour. They put their faith to work when the church doors close behind them.
As Provis puts it, “We consider ourselves spiritual activists.”
To Reverend Paul Eknes-Tucker, a Pastor at AGC, this church is a “theological crap-free zone.”
Eknes-Tucker elaborates on how that term came to be: “It was one of those offhand moments where I was getting so tired of all the theological crap that we had to deal with. We were just talking about how All God’s Children Church needs to be a place where there is none.”
As for theological crap itself, Eknes-Tucker’s warm, soft voice strains, stretching to the point of fatigue, as he notes, “It’s that same stuff we keep getting from religious people—that if gay people get any kind of grace, then it’s going to cause all hell to break loose.”
When the concepts of spiritual activism and theological crap-free zones were coupled, the seeds of a blossoming exodus were sown, one that led to the promised land of Iowa, a state whose supreme court unanimously ruled that there was “no important government interest in denying citizens marriage licenses based on their sexual orientation,” according to the official ruling.
Provis connects some obvious dots between divine doctrine and the political realities outside the church, observing, “This is a big duh. This is a country founded on separation of church and state. The ability of [GLBT people] to get married is for the common good. It is not special rights. It is just common good. Marriage makes for more stable society. So, to preclude on any legal basis the ability of two consenting adults to enter into a civil contract seems unconstitutional to me. And yet, all of the fervor around the anti-marriage-equality work and activism that’s happening in the religious right—it’s all based on antigay religious bias. So, where is the separation of church and state in that?”
The Iowa Supreme Court decision provided AGC members with a kind of secular inspiration.
Provis recalls, “One of our couples came up to us, and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all go down together—a whole bunch of us—and get married, and each of us could witness each other’s marriages?’ And we thought, ‘Hmmm. I wonder if people would go for that?’”
It turns out they would. During the next Sunday worship, the idea was cast widely, like St. Peter’s net, onto the larger congregation.
Eknes-Tucker remembers, “A lot of people were, like, ‘Wow! That’s great! Let’s go do this together! Let’s make this historic trip! Let’s be a part of this! We want to do this now, because we’ve been waiting for so long!’”
After that service, nearly a dozen couples had committed to the trip as a means of committing to each other.
Provis relates, “The vast majority of them are members of this church. We know all these couples, and, for several of them, we’ve performed their holy unions. Several of them have been together for many years. We had quite a few more couples who wanted to go, including my partner and I. But we learned that in Iowa—who knew?—our marriages in Canada are already recognized.”
A bus was chartered, and loaded with 10 couples who aspired toward holy and legal matrimony…which isn’t to say the transition was a somber one.
Provis laughs, “As we got into Iowa, we all started to go nuts at the border. It was a hoot. It was a Hee Haw moment. Everybody went, ‘Welcome to Iowa!’”
Iowa was welcoming indeed—specifically, AGC’s sister MCC church in Davenport greeted the would-be ball-and-chainers with figuratively and literally open arms.
Provis recounts, “They welcomed us. They had a sign up. They had the whole place decorated for a wedding. It was just beautiful.”
Then, the main reason for the cornstalked odyssey took place: the actual weddings. Eknes-Tucker and Provis presided over a 10 ceremonies with a commando-like cadence. Love was celebrated, and history was made.
Provis declares, “For us to be able to go with these people we’re in community with, whom we love and care about—Pastor Paul and I were so excited, because we were going to be able to say what we say to heterosexual couples when they hire us to marry them: ‘By the powers vested in me, and according to the laws of the great State of Iowa, I now pronounce you legally and lawfully wed.’ We don’t get to say that to our own people that we’re in community with, so this was huge.”
The moment was a milestone personally, as well as professionally.
Provis acknowledges, “I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so much love and so many tears. It was phenomenal. It really was phenomenal. We always have the best seat in the house, as pastors.”
Even a wedding-hardened vet like Provis was swept up in the moment, sharing, “Many of the couples wrote their own vows. To hear right from their hearts, while they stood, holding each other’s hands, with everyone watching, with media like crazy filling the whole back of this little church—they just teared up. They told their stories of what it meant to have each other in their life, what it meant to finally—after all these years, in many cases—stand there, and profess their love, and have it be legally recognized. I’m surprised I didn’t fall on the floor crying. It was precious. It was just precious.”
Even the media members recording every syllable and commemorating every tear were caught up in the moment—or so Provis supposes.
In Provis’s words, “If any of those reporters arrived cleaning their back molars with their tongue, and thinking, ‘This is going to be just another day at the office,’ they were in for a surprise. They could not have witnessed the things these couples said—the looks on their faces, the reverence with which they stood before Pastor Paul and me—and come away unchanged, unless they were made of stone.”
And what’s a so-called “gay wedding” without a gay party afterward?
Provis chuckles, “The church had a great reception with a big wedding cake afterwards. The cake cutter was in the shape of a high heel.”
Once the matrimonial dust had settled, the media began echoing an already-weathered, far-right talking point.
Provis laments, “Of all the things to talk about—I can’t tell you how many reporters kept pulling that out: ‘Aren’t you afraid that this is going to cause a backlash?’”
The short answer?
Provis predicts the opposite, stating, “Every time one of our families shares our story, shares our love, and people witness it, it is more likely to cause a backdraft of understanding and support. We’ve been doing same-gender weddings since 1968 [in UFMCC]—without fear!”
That dearth of fear isn’t just preferable, where AGC’s good work is concerned. It’s necessary, linking the recent weddings to the church’s very reason for being.
Provis muses, “Spiritual activism, to me, is when you do something with your faith, when you walk it out into the world. Jesus always spoke truth to power. Jesus always crossed borders that people had never crossed before. And he always stood with the people who maybe couldn’t stand for themselves.”
Each couple, by virtue of their very coupledom, is an example, in every sense, for the world outside the church’s purview.
Provis asserts, “Even for us to go and share our love publicly, and allow cameras to roll—we were modeling that, even in this, we know that God is blessing these marriages. We were proud enough to show the world who we are. And spiritual activism figures right in there.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Provis insists, “It’s who were are, and it’s what we do. If you can’t come to church, and be changed, and then change the world by healing it, then church becomes irrelevant. And the church is not irrelevant.”
That isn’t to say the church is the only relevancy.
Provis remarks, “The point isn’t who’s in and who’s out, and who’s right and who’s wrong. The point is that we’re all invited to grow, and become whatever it is we are not yet, so that we can all become the best we can be. And that doesn’t have an asterisk on it. That’s for everybody.”
Just like marriage in Iowa.