Holy Union Celebration of
Jeanne Barnett & Ellie Charlton
© 2000, Demian
original article posted in March 1999, follow-up section posted February 2000
Jeanne Barnett & Ellie Charlton
photo: Mike DuBose
The Issue ————————
“O God, our maker, we gladly proclaim to the world that Jeanne and Ellie are loving partners together for life.”
This quote is the last line in the “Blessings and Announcement” section of a ceremony which finalized a Holy Union for Jeanne and Ellie. On January 16, 1999 in California’s Sacramento Community Theater, the 95 co-officiators, spoke those words and placed their hands on the loving couple. Those in attendance in the hall, did so in person; those who could not attend, did so in spirit.
This unique ceremony was possibly the first to have so many clergy officiate. And it was certainly the first to have so many for a same-sex couple.
The ceremony was also unique in that it doubled as an act of “ecclesiastical disobedience.” Most of the co-officiating clergy were from the United Methodist Church, which has 8.5 million members. The church’s governing body forbid blessing same-sex couples in August 1998. Before the church ruling, pastors were free to decide for themselves about offering ceremonies.
In 1996, charges were made against Reverend Jimmy Creech for blessing a female couple in Nebraska. The charges were dropped 1997 by a panel that found church law unclear on the issue. That lack of clarity prompted the August anti-ceremony ruling. Rev. Creech is listed among those officiating in absentia at Jeanne and Ellie’s Union.
Rev. Gregory Dell, a Chicago pastor who has been on the pulpit for 28 years, presided over a union ceremony of two men one month after the August ruling. In late March 1999, he was tried by the church and found himself suspended. He could have been censured or defrocked. Rev. Dell, who has performed about 35 same-sex unions, said, “If I can’t be a pastor to all the people … you don’t want me as a pastor.”
Sixty-nine of the participating clergy at Jeanne and Ellie’s ceremony now find themselves charged with violating church law, which could lead to church trials and loss of their ministerial orders.
One of those charged, Tulsa, Oklahoma minister Leslie Penrose, resigned on March 4, rather than face a church trial. Said Penrose of her support for Jeanne and Ellie’s blessing:
“I have experienced many gay and lesbian ‘couple-relationships’ that are creative, healthy, caring, monogamous, mutual, and life-giving. Several couples in the congregation I now pastor have been in committed relationships for twelve years, fifteen years, twenty years, and longer. I have witnessed the sincerity with which gay and lesbian couples share their vows of love and commitment with one another, and how deeply significant it remains throughout the relationship that their vows were shared in the presence of their pastor and their community of faith, all claiming the blessing of God together. Their commitments to one another may not be ‘legal’ but when said in the context of their faith, they become deeply binding ‘covenants’ that are not dishonored or discarded lightly. And I find myself humbled by the reminder that, of course, grace forms a more sacred bond than law.”
On the same day as Penrose’s departure, the local public television station broadcast a tape of her blessing yet another same-sex couple.
The Couple ————————
Jeanne: “Ellie, I give to you my love.”
Ellie: “I will love you forever.”
Jeanne Barnett, 68, is a retired Economic Development Department administrator, and is the Methodists’ Northern California Conference’s lay leader, the church’s highest leadership position short of ordination.
Ellie Charlton, 63, is a retired bookkeeper, who serves on the Conference’s Board of Trustees, and is a great-grandmother.
They originally met at a potluck at a time when Jeanne only recently realized she was a lesbian, and Ellie was going with another woman. When Ellie’s relationship was ending, she and Jeanne became good friends.
In an article for “Open Hands” Jeanne writes, “Ellie and I shared everything with each other: what we were looking for in a relationship; how important a loving, long-term commitment was; how important it was for us to be able to talk openly and with trust. Slowly, we each began to recognize that the qualities we were seeking in a relationship were there in each other.”
Jeanne and Ellie’s ceremony, attended by more than 1,200 invited guests, was marked by emotional speeches and confessions of love toward the celebrating couple. Among the most touching of the declarations, was the poem created and read by Wanda Charlton (Ellie’s daughter-in-law) and Bobbie Charlton (Ellie’s granddaughter).
Alternatingly read poem by Wanda Charlton & Bobbie Charlton
We came together as strangers.
Strangers. What we knew was not from a religious point of view, but from a society’s view.
Society’s view. We agree without even knowing you.
Knowing you. You have shown us that kindness, decency and love have no boundaries.
Boundaries. When looking beyond the boundaries, we have seen that we are not so different after all.
After all, you have taught us to be self-reliant, so that we may advance in our dreams confidently.
Confidently, we reach far and climb higher because you made it possible for us to believe.
Believe. We believe in you, and it is an honor to call you our grandma and our mother.
Mother. Ellie, even though you are my mother-in-law, I have accepted you as my mother in my heart.
My heart. Flowing like the river, where you have shared your support, generosity and bravery with me and many others.
Many others. Others will know the compassion, honesty and strength you have shown us.
I am a woman in this word who knows your courage.
I am a woman in this world who knows your kindness.
We are women who thank you for who you are.
Why a Public Union ————————
Rev. Don Fado
Jeanne Barnett & Ellie Charlton
The host pastor, Don Fado, stated in the press conference following the event, “I want to tell everyone here and to tell the world, these are two of the most wonderful people. It is a privilege to be their pastor, and that’s the number one reason why I’m here today.
“In our church I’m allowed to come into their home and bless their house. I can bless a car, I can bless a tractor, I can bless their dogs, but, unfortunately, I am not allowed to bless them.
“To be true to the gospel, we’re here today to bless them because we know God blesses them.”
A reporter asked of the celebrating couple, “How does it feel to be married?”
Ellie responded, “We don’t consider this a marriage. When you have a wedding, you’re married. And when your married you have rights and privileges. We have none of those. This is a Holy Union and a celebration of our love for each other.
“We know a lot of heterosexual people who get married and don’t stay married, but, during that short time, they get all the legal rights. We’ve been together 15 years and have none of those legal rights. It somehow seems a little unfair.”
Another reporter asked, “What kind of message do you hope this ceremony will send to the church?”
Jeanne said, “We’ve been members of the church all our lives. We are — who we are — within our church.”
Ellie added, “God created us. God loves us. I wish, sometimes, the church did.”
Co-Officiating Clergy at Jeanne & Ellie’s Union
Former Clergy who Have Surrendered Their
Parentheses contains clergy member’s church location.
(*) indicates they were unable to attend, but supported
the ceremonial service as a co-officiator.
Orders Due to Their Sexual Orientation
Clergy of the California-Nevada Annual Conference,
United Methodist Church
*J. Howard Acton (Jackson)
John J. Auer, III (San Rafael)
Brandon Austin (Sacramento)
Donald L. Baldwin (Aptos)
*Gary Barbaree (San Francisco)
Claire Beals-Nesmith (San Francisco)
Dr. Robert W. Blaney (Aptos)
Diana Marie Bohn (Fresno)
Richard E. Bruner (Pittsburg)
Carol M. Carter (Sacramento)
George P. Carter (San Jose)
Jerry Carter (San Jose)
John Chamberlin (San Francisco)
W. Thomas Clark (Grass Valley)
*Robert F. Clazie (Santa Rosa)
Rolfe Conrad (Petaluma)
D. Clifford Crummey (San Francisco)
*Al Dale (Bellingham, Wash.)
Donna Morrow Decamp (San Jose)
Sharon Delgado (Santa Cruz)
Nadine DeWitt (San Mateo)
*Paul Dirdak (Walnut Creek)
*Lawrence H. Doyle (Fresno)
Mona Dyer (Napa)
Steven Eatough-Smith (Oroville)
*John Emerson (Pleasanton)
Janet S. Everhart (Denver, Colorado)
Renae Extrum-Fernandez (Walnut Creek)
Don Fado (Sacramento)
*Gordon Fairchild (Sacramento)
David Franks (San Francisco)
Glenn S. Fuller (Walnut Creek)
J. Richart Hart (Walnut Creek)
Robert J. Hawthorne (San Jose)
C. Douglas Hayward (Pleasant Hill)
Thomas W. Hicks (Rancho Cordova)
Bruce Hilton (Sacramento)
Virginia Y. Hilton (Sacramento)
Elbert D. Hoffman (Stockton)
*Richard E. Houser, Jr. (Billings, Montana)
Jim Hutchinson (Concord)
Donna Fado Ivery (South San Francisco)
Dr. Hubert L. lvery (South San Francisco)
*Rob Jennings-Teats (Paradise)
*Dixie Jennings-Teats (Paradise)
Wilbur Johnson (Richmond)
Alan Jones (San Francisco)
Linda M. Kelly (Rancho Cordova)
Phillip Lawson (Richmond)
Stephen Lee (Oakland)
Charles Lerrigo (Berkeley)
Jim Lockwood-Stewart (Berkeley)
David MacMurdo (Sacramento)
Bill Marx (Santa Rosa)
Dr. Theresa Mason (St. Paul, Minn.
Charles McCoy (Berkeley)
*Ted Mclivenna (San Francisco)
*George H. McLane (Chico)
Victor W. McLane (Fresno)
Maggie McNaught (Palo Alto)
Douglas Monroe (Sacramento)
Bob Moon (Carmichael)
*Mike Morizono (El Cerrito)
Mary Parker-Eves (San Jose)
Larry Patten (Fresno)
Ted Pecot (Morgan Hill)
*Warren W. Peters (Manteca)
Jay Kevin Pierce (Sacramento)
Cheri Pierre (Willits)
Kathleen Ralston (Windsor)
Dr. Robert Rankin (Chico)
Lynn Rhodes (Berkeley)
Ellen Rowan (Chico)
*Kelvin Sauls (San Francisco)
Doug Smith (Red Bluff)
Marlene Spilman (San Jose)
*Patricia Spooner-Walther (Watsonville)
Judith Stone (Saratoga)
Frank H. Stone, Ph.D. (San Francisco)
Gerald Summers (Chico)
Paul Sweet (San Francisco)
Margo Tenold (Los Gatos)
Tiapula (San Mateo)
Harold A. Tillinghast (Eureka)
*Lloyd K. Wake (San Francisco)
Richard Whitmore (San Jose)
Cecil Williams (San Francisco)
Lee E. Williamson (Hayward)
Andrea Meek Winchester (Sacramento)
Dr. Sargent Wright (Citrus Heights)
*Michael Yoshii (Alameda)
Clergy from Other United Methodist Annual Conferences
Amy Alletzhauser (New England)
*Marie Bent (New England)
*Art Brandenburg (Eastern Pennsylvania)
*Lynne Butter (Rocky Mountain)
*Nancy A. Carter (New York)
*Norman Case (Western Philippines)
*William C. Coleman (New England)
*Dave Cornwell (North Indiana)
*Jack Cramer-Heuerman (Great Rivers, Illinois)
*Jimmy Creech (Nebraska)
*Earle R. Custer (New England)
*F. Oliver Drake (New England)
*Janet E. Eggleston (Great Rivers, Illinois)
Don Elmer (Dakotas)
*Marylee Fithian (Minnesota)
*Kay Gardner Pyle (Rocky Mountain)
*Dr. Charles H. Straut, Jr. (New York)
*Richard E. Harding (New England)
*Russ Hawkins (Rocky Mountain)
*Sam Hedrick (New England)
*Mark Henderson (New Hampshire)
*Gerry Hill (Oregon / Idaho)
Dave Holmes (Iowa)
Steve F. Jackson (Southwest Texas)
*Evan R. Johnson (New England)
*Harry C. Kiely (Baltimore, Maryland / D.C.)
*Franklin E. Kooker (New England)
*John Kruse (Wisconsin)
*Paul V. LaRue (Oregon / Idaho)
*John H. Lavely (New England)
*James M. Lawson, Jr. (California-Pacific)
*John S. Lewis (Yellowstone)
*Theodore Loder (Eastern Pennsylvania)
*Roger Lynn (Minnesota)
*Wayne Marshall Jones (Western North Carolina)
*George McClain (New York)
*Peter L. Misner (New England)
*Mary Elizabeth Moore (California-Pacific)
Dr. Rebecca Parker (Pacific Northwest)
*Leslie Penrose (Oklahoma)
*Lyda Pierce (Missionary in Honduras)
*Jeanne Audrey Powers (Minnesota)
*Harry Riley (Baltimore, Maryland / D.C. )
*Ruth E. S. Robinson (New England)
*Susan Ross (Oklahoma)
*Robert E. Sammons (New England)
Paul G. Schurman (Eastern Ohio)
*Donelia Siktberg (New England)
*Carl Siktberg (New England)
*Richard W. Smith (Desert / Southwest)
*Steve Smith (West Michigan)
*Suzanne Marie Snyder (Northern Illinois)
*Harry Soper, Jr. (New England)
*Robert L. Treese (New England)
*Wayne S. Underhill (New England)
*Judy Westleg (Minnesota)
*Thomas C. Whitehouse (New England)
Clergy from Other Denominations
Ginny Curinga, United Church of Christ (Sacramento, Calif.)
Steve Fietz, Disciples of Christ (Sacramento, Calif.)
Charles Grande, American Catholic (Penn Valley, Calif.)
Thomas W. Harshman, Disciples of Christ (Stanford, Calif.)
Glen A. Holman, Disciples of Christ (Sacramento, Calif.)
Steven F. Kindle, Disciples of Christ (Stockton, Calif.)
Stanley E. Olson, Bishop Emeritus, Sierra Pacific Synod of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Placerville, Calif.)
Pamela Griffith Pond, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (San Rafael, Calif.)
Joy Preisser, Disciples of Christ (Sacramento, Calif.)
Terry Shea, Religious Science International (Nevada City, Calif.)
Rebecca St. Claire, Disciples of Christ (Hayward, Calif.)
Stephen St. Claire, Disciples of Christ (Hayward, Calif.)
John Wichman, Presbyterian (Hayward, Calif.)
Follow-Up: No Clergy Trial ————————
The 68 United Methodist ministers who jointly celebrated a Holy Union ceremony for lesbians Ellie Charlton and Jeannie Barnett will not be tried for disobedience. That number is one less than the original 69 as Leslie Penrose resigned rather than face a church trial.
The Committee on Investigation began assessing complaints against the ministers in May 1999. They finished on February 8, 2000, and made the announcment on February 11, 2000. However, in announcing the decision on behalf of the California-Nevada Conference, Bishop Melvin Talbert stated that it “will not resolve the tension and conflict around the issue of the place and role of the gay/lesbian community in our church or in this conference.”
Since 1996, the denomination has maintained that “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Had the Committee decided against the clergy, they would have been the largest group of clergy to face disciplinary proceedings since the Church was founded, and punishments could have been loss of ministerial credentials.
The Church law against blessing same-sex couples remains controversial, and will be discussed when the denomination holds its General Assembly in May, 2000. Two ministers had previously been punished for violating it. The Reverend Jimmy Creech of Omaha, Nebraska was tried in 1997. That Church court fell one vote shy of convicting him because of uncertainty as to whether the prohibition was a law or only a guideline.
On appeal, the denomination’s highest judicial authority determined that it was indeed a law. Last year Creech was tried again for performing another ceremony in North Carolina. He was found guilty and stripped of his credentials. In between the two Creech trials, Reverend Gregory Dell of Chicago’s Broadway United Methodist Church was tried and convicted, and he serves a one-year suspension.
Top image © 1999, Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service.
Reprinted with permission.
The middle and bottom images are © 1999, Demian.
These two are screen captures by Demian from tape provided by
Paul Barwick, 205 - 13th St., San Francisco, CA 94103