2 Randolph women wed, Bishop Gene Robinson blesses marriage



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The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, blessed the rings and Christian marriage of Elizabeth Hess and the Rev. Eleanor McLaughlin, both of Randolph, at the altar of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Berlin on Saturday, Jan. 2. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
January 06, 2010
BERLIN — An historic first took place on Saturday, Jan. 2, in the "City that Trees Built."

Elizabeth "Betsy" Hess and the Rev. Eleanor "Ellie" McLaughlin, both of Randolph, were wed in a civil ceremony near the entrance to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on High Street.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, blessed their rings and their Christian marriage at the altar. The blessing ceremony followed the civil marriage ceremony, which was jointly performed by Randolph Town Clerk Anne Kenison and Justice of the Peace Anne Jackson of Lancaster.

This was the first such wedding ceremony over which Bishop Robinson — who is the first openly gay diocesan bishop in the Anglican Communion — presided since same-sex marriage became legal in New Hampshire on New Year's Day, January 1.

The Granite State is the fifth state to allow same-sex couples to marry, joining Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Iowa.

Ms. Hess, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Montana at Missoula, maintains a private practice in Berlin, and the Rev. McLaughlin, who earned a Ph.D. in medieval history at Harvard University, is the retired rector of St. Barnabas and a parishioner at St. Paul's, Lancaster.

They described his role as an "unspeakable honor — a thrill."

Bishop Robinson welcomed a congregation of well over 100 people — parishioners, the couple's family members, Randolph neighbors, friends, and other clergy — to St. Barnabas and the City of Berlin. He recalled that when now-retired Bishop Douglas Theuner met with the parish in 2001 to tell them that he had found them a priest who was prepared to fill its vacant pulpit, he had alerted them to the fact that the Rev. McLaughlin had a life partner — another woman.

"You took a chance on her and loved both of them," Bishop Robinson marveled. "You learned that God believes in love.

"I'm so proud," the Bishop said, noting that the Berlin parish had blown away all preconceptions.

Bishop Robinson said he understands that having both a gay bishop and a gay priest means that some in Berlin call St. Barnabas the gay church.

"Yes, we're gay," he said. "We welcome people of color, people in wheelchairs, the mentally disabled — all of God's children." Elaborating on its inclusivity, he also noted that the Rev. Fran Gardner, the rector who succeeded the Rev. McLaughlin, is also gay.

He reminded everyone of Christ's eighth beatitude: "Blessed are they who are persecuted."

In his homily, Bishop Robinson explained that when God created "the human thing" in the Garden of Eden, which He called "A-dam" — (which the bishop pronounced with a long "A" and "dame") — He wanted to make him happy, so He provided him with a helper, a partner, a soul mate.

"It was not right that A-dam should be alone," Bishop Robinson said, noting that this is nothing new.

"Marriage is honorable," he said. It is about honoring one another and represents a pledge of infinite respect: staying when you want to run; and saying you're sorry and accepting forgiveness.

It's dealing with those things that you need God to help you with when the "going gets tough," Bishop Robinson explained.

"Marriage is also crazy," he said. "It's hard to live up to when the institution of marriage is in such trouble," Bishop Robinson said.

He pointed out that it was crazy to think this day would ever happen. "In New Hampshire?" he snorted. "Before New York and California!" Even a few years ago it would have been unimaginable, the bishop said, adding, "So maybe it's not so crazy!"

Turning serious once again, Bishop Robinson called the couple's wedding day "a holy day" for those who believe in the sacrament of marriage. "It is, oh, so holy," he said. "God believes in love, and we believe in you."

The couple was first wed on Saturday in a civil ceremony, highlighting the distinction between marriage as a contract protecting the state's interests and as a church sacrament.

Randolph Town Clerk Kenison read an historical account, written by the Rev. McLaughlin that is informed by the work of the "boundary-breaking interdisciplinary work" of Professor Nancy Cott of Harvard University, on the changes that have taken place from the days when the State and the Established Church were one. "In colonial society, the State established and defined both moral and economic boundaries of the marriage contract, by which the husband was provider and unitary authority and the woman, mother and wife, was the dependent and obedient subject in law to her husband. These gendered and hierarchical arrangements of the human family have ceased to be normative. Civil Marriage has been 'disestablished'…. The Marriage here solemnized is grounded upon current values and interests determined and enforced by the State, supported and respected by Civil society."

Both Ms. Hess and Ms. McLaughlin were asked by Justice of the Peace Jackson whether she took the other to be her partner "in a commitment of love and support, attending to her individual call to be the best person she can be, as long as you both shall live. "I do," both answered.

Then, after moving in front of the altar, each individually reaffirmed the commitment she had made to the other by saying "I do" to the Bishop when he inquired whether she did so "in the presence of God and of this Community here gathered."

The Bishop then led the congregation in the celebration of communion, followed by a post-communion prayer.

The couple then knelt and the bishop blessed their marriage, concluding by asking God to grant that they "faithfully live together in this life, and in the age to come have life everlasting." Many community and family members participated in the service: crucifer Max Mayerson; acolytes Wally Bibbey and Michelle Jarvis; silver wand bearers Chloe and Cooper Bullock, Leah Dion, Lex Mayerson, and organizer Lynn Dion; witnesses Michael Eastman, Meme English, Denise Gelinas, the Rev. Heidi Frantz-Dale, and Barbara Turnbull; family presenters Harry and Sue Parker, Hannah (McLaughlin) and Victor Carbonneau, and Rebecca McLaughlin, also a Reader with Pamela Carrier; ushers David and Cindy Morin; parish organist and director of music Dr. Susan Ferre; baroque cellist Dr. Charles Lang; and master of ceremonies, the Rev. Noël Bailey, interim rector of St. Paul's, Lancaster.

Several times applause, laughter, and hugs marked the ceremonies, and the mood was joyous and celebratory.

The two spouses, standing in front of the altar rail, exuberantly sang James Moore's "In a Land Where We'll Never Grow Old" to one another.

A reception followed the service in the undercroft, decorated by Yvonne Jenkins.

Libby's Bistro of Gorham catered the supper. The menu featured foods inspired by the couple's international travels.

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