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Out & About with Rachel Morin: Congregational Church performs first gay bi-racial marriage

Tony Brown and Langston Snodgrass

By Rachel Morin

Langston Snodgrass and Tony Brown of Lewiston were married Saturday, December 1 in Auburn at the High Street Congregational Church, United Church of Christ—a historic first for the church. Three celebrants took part in what is the very first gay, religious, bi-racial marriage ceremony at the Congregational Church.

The Rev. William Walsh Jr., pastor of Hampden Congregational United Church of Christ, was the celebrant, with the Rev. Stephen Carnahan, pastor of High Street Congregational Church, UCC Auburn, and the Rev. Dr. William Blaine-Wallace, multi-faith chaplain at Bates College, as co-celebrants.

This is the story of two men—articulate, educated, intellectual and spiritual, one black and one white—who met, fell in love and decided to marry in the presence of God, family and friends and to make the focus of the wedding ceremony God-centered, as well as love-centered.

It was a little over a year ago that Langston began communicating with Tony on the Internet. After a few weeks, they met at Langston’s home and felt an immediate connection. They knew in a matter of a few months that they wanted not just to be lovers or partners, but to marry. Every day, they learned a great deal about each other. Their relationship grew stronger and stronger. Both had been through previous long-term relationships and, at their age, realized that what they had was real and that they were unusually blessed.

Both men were products of long-time loving marriages from their parents. Both came from family homes filled with love and, for Tony especially, God. They found their values were similar. Each wanted a forever, monogamous love, but neither one ever thought he would enter into a gay marriage. Langston knew he was ready and proposed in February. Tony, who also knew he was ready, was quick to say “yes.”

Langston, a member of the Humanities faculty at Central Maine Community College, set to work in July preparing and planning the wedding ceremony with Tony, who is an artist. It was extremely important to both that they have a religious ceremony in church to profess their love and commitment in the presence of God, family and friends.

They have marveled at how accepting and supportive their families, extended relatives, friends, colleagues and everyone they have dealt with have been. They are very grateful for this.

Langston, a former seminarian and a planner, wanted everything to be in perfect harmony, down to the most finite detail. He worked through the standard service to make it universal and all-inclusive. He also added an invocation to make the sanctuary a holy place, a kiss and a Gloria at the end to give glory and thanks to the divine creative power in the universe.

The 15-page wedding program listed the prayers, scripture readings, hymns, vows of the marriage covenant, as well as musical selections by Dr. James Strand, organist at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Cape Elizabeth, and soprano soloists Ruth Burke of Auburn and Lauren Haven of Dresden.

The church was beautifully decorated, in keeping with the holy season, with evergreen wreaths topped by red velvet bows, candles glowing, the celebrants in liturgical vestments and the wedding couple in dark suits and lavender ties. The stage was set; the scene was ready. The moment Langston and Tony had waited for and prepared for was ready, and so were they.

Dr. Strand, who had been playing for some 30 minutes, began “Fanfare” by Paul Dukas, 1865-1935, announcing the beginning of the liturgy. Chaplain Blaine-Wallace started the invocation, followed by the soloists’ response, and entrance of the wedding party and the celebrant and co-celebrants down the center aisle.

Each groom entered alone, followed by their groomsmen and groomswoman. Tony and Langston separated at the chancel steps and each walked up a side aisle to rejoin at the center aisle, then proceeded together, hands joined.

The church was filled with family, relatives, friends, colleagues and church members who joined in the responses, prayers and hymns in the ceremony. The Declaration of Intention was a solemn moment. And following this, we, in the pews, were invited by Chaplain Blaine-Wallace to pledge our support and encouragement to the covenant commitment that Tony and Langston had just made together. We responded with a resounding, “We do!”

The wedding party included groomsmen, Frank Brown, Sr. of Atco, New Jersey, Tony’s brother; Jeffrey Snodgrass of Silver Spring, Maryland and Landon Carter of Charlotte, North Carolina, both Langston’s sons. Drusilla Arnold of Blackwood, New Jersey, Tony’s sister, was groomswoman.

Eleanor Snodgrass and Henry Snodgrass, both of Silver Spring and Langston’s grandchildren, served as acolyte and bearer of the rings. Rhonda Brown, Tony’s sister-in-law, was stole bearer.

Dr. Cagdas Agirdas of Istanbul, Turkey, Denis Ledoux of Lisbon and David Vaughan of Waterville were ushers.

The reception was held in the parish hall with delicious food and a red velvet wedding cake topped with a black groom and a white groom. Tony had become quite the chef the past few months and even gave his recipes to the caterer who followed the recipes. The results were many requests for seconds.

The guests enjoyed the camaraderie of the evening and remarked on the hour-and-a-half ceremony as being God-centered, loving, welcoming, all-inclusive, elegant, inspiring and educational, as well. These sentiments were echoed by the guests.

“Yes, a marriage of two men is a change in practice, but it’s not a change in values,” said The Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., Willard Bass Professor of Christian Ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary. “At the heart of marriage is love, commitment and shared responsibility, not a particular gender configuration. Moreover, we trust that where there is love, there is God.”

Langston and Tony expressed heartfelt appreciation of the warm, gracious, support and welcome they received from the members of the Congregational Church who have helped tremendously. Many of the church members attended the wedding, as did an outpouring of family, friends and colleagues, coming from great distances.

 

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