‘It felt like a big deal . . . it was so powerful’

First MC Canada-officiated same-sex marriage takes place in Saskatchewan

Story and Photos by Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

Craig Friesen and Matthew Wiens rang in 2015 by joining their hands and committing their lives to one another in front of friends and family at a New Year’s Eve wedding, the first same-sex wedding to ever be publicly officiated by Mennonite Church Canada pastors.

Wiens and Friesen, who attend Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, were married by their co-pastors Anita Retzlaff and Patrick Preheim, at Osler Mennonite Church, where Friesen is a member.

It was important for Friesen and Wiens to be married in a Mennonite church, even though it isn’t publicly welcoming of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) couples. Despite the denomination’s stance—whose Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective states, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life”—the couple couldn’t believe the amount of support they received from friends, family and their faith community.

“It felt like a big deal because we had all these people here overwhelmingly and unequivocally supportive of our relationship,” says Friesen. “It was so powerful.”

Becoming a welcoming community

Nutana Park Mennonite didn’t become welcoming overnight, however. According to members, this marriage is the outcome of a process that spanned nearly 20 years, through a gradual and intentional culture shift.

It began to take shape because of Connie Gutwin, who has attended the church for more than 30 years. Her daughter Catherine is a lesbian, and although she doesn’t attend church, Gutwin felt it important for the church to welcome those who are same-sex attracted.

Ten years after Catherine came out, Nutana Park began adult education classes on same-sex relationships that drew LGBTQ people and their friends and family from all over the province.

Seven years later, the church sent a letter to MC Saskatchewan’s pastoral leadership committee stating its intention to engage all members of the church fully in all aspects of church.

According to Trish St. Onge, Nutana Park’s congregational chair, the assumption was that this included marriage, although it wasn’t stated in so many words. “There were subtle cultural shifts over the years that came together that allowed us to confidently make that statement,” she says.

Retzlaff believed so strongly in Nutana Park’s welcoming statement, she says she was ready to put her career on the line if that was what it took.

Members of the congregation believe it was a profound moment of courage.

In October 2014, the area church’s pastoral leadership commission released a statement in response to questions throughout the province wondering what would happen to pastors who perform same-sex marriages. The commission said individual congregations can decide if they will marry same-sex couples or not, and that no action will be taken against pastors for doing so.

The statement asks that “respect and kindness be demonstrated, regardless of the perspective taken, and that sensitivity be shown to persons and families involved in same-sex marriages who find themselves in the centre of this disagreement.”

According to Willard Metzger, executive director of MC Canada, the denomination is at different points in its Being a Faithful Church process, a time of discernment that is looking at issues of faithfulness, including in areas of human sexuality. “Individual congregations may need to respond to their specific ministry contexts before the discernment period is completed,” he says.

For Nutana Park, that meant marrying Friesen and Wiens, who they felt were ready to commit to each other and their faith community after getting engaged last year.

“Craig and Matt are a gift to our congregation, to MC Saskatchewan, to MC Canada, and to the kingdom of God,” Preheim says.

Hope for the future

Friesen and Wiens say their church experiences have generally been positive, and their church communities mostly open and accepting of their same-sex attraction.

“We’ve been really lucky to live in the city where there are two affirming churches,” Wiens says. Friesen grew up attending Osler Mennonite, which is also welcoming.

But that’s not the experience of many LGBTQ people, they say. Wiens and Friesen aren’t sure if their marriage will trigger change in their area church or the denomination as a whole, but they do hope it will inspire hope in the LGBTQ community.

Despite differences of opinion across the country, the couple hope churches will refer vulnerable LGBTQ people to welcoming churches like the ones they attend. They also hope that more congregations will come out as being publicly affirming, not just privately.

“It would be wonderful if one day silence was enough,” Wiens says, “but I think that we have to recognize that positive action is required at the moment.”

“There’s a history of the church being really oppressive,” Friesen adds. “The silence still oppresses.”

—Posted Jan. 6, 2015

See also:

Being a Faithful Church (BFC) documents

Mennonite Church Canada releases BFC video with seminary professor 

Share this page:

Comments

Gordon Allaby:
Why should people love God and each other?
Answer: because God as the perfect Creator deserves to be loved, those created in His image deserve to be loved, and so we are commanded by God. In the end we will be judged by God Himself according to His commandments and rules.
Love is more than a word: it is the value we place on someone. When we love people, we desire and work for their eternal benefit and good. Therefore, it is only loving to celebrate a marriage if it is for the eternal benefit and good of others.
It is loving to warn people of danger and possible harm. For example, as a parent it is loving to tell children not to do things that you know are harmful.
If God says that something is wrong (a sin), then it is not good or beneficial for someone to do it. They will be judged by God for doing it. The loving thing to do, then, is to warn people that they will be judged by God for their actions because it is for their eternal benefit and good.
Personally, I have a brother and a son in same-sex marriages. I love them deeply, and would give my life for either one of them, but it is because I love them so much that I do not celebrate their sin.
I know from the word of God and personal observation that they are being harmed by it, along with others affected by them.

Wow. Now that's inspiring?! What a good argument a rhyme is, especially when you capitalize all of the letters in the names.Just brilliant. (Can you sense the sarcasm please?)

A Powerful theological statement, I had never considered that it might not be Adam and Steve in the creation story. But you sir, convinced me of the truth with that insightful (and rhyming) statement. However, since I have a desire to keep this debate rooted in scripture, I shall refer you to Againesis 2: 2-3 "2It is often said-- and even more often screamed at anti-gay marriage rallies outside the statehouse in Lansing-- that I created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. 3Wrong."

There is a misunderstanding about some people "being born that way". God in the Bible makes it clear that any behaviour other than what is according to His perfect plan is sin. The Bible clearly labels homosexual activity as sin. It also labels adultery and fornication along with many other deeds and actions as sin. Sin is common in human behaviour because we are all born with a corrupt human nature: it is natural to sin. So, in that sense, some people are born with the nature to engage in homosexual activity as well as adultery, fornication, murder, theft, etc.
However, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for all of our sin and then rose from the dead that all who repent of their sin and receive Him by faith can be born again spiritually and receive a new sinless nature with the power to have victory over your sin so that you can be changed and stop your sin.
The message of God and Christ in the Bible to all sinners including homosexuals is that God loves you so much that He gave His son to die for your sins and can and will change you into a new person with a new nature if you will repent of your sin and receive Christ as your personal Saviour by faith! It is a free gift by the grace of God!
It is sad to me as a Mennonite pastor that many don't seem to get it and are not preaching this very simple yet profound gospel message to their people.

Congratulations to Craig an Matt.

let us be servants to one another and love each other.

let us be open to sharing and learning from strangers.

let us embrace humanity for all its faults and failures recognizing that God is love and God is good.

let us welcome all who hunger and thirst for what God has to offer.

Jesus invited everyone to the banquet.

So let's eat!!

Oh for the love of all that is holy. People need to stop saying things like "As a Mennonite pastor, I find it disturbing..." Or "As a Mennonite Pastor, let me tell you that the bible is quite clear on Sin..."

Seriously. Just stop.
The majority of Mennonite Pastors are/were able to avoid studying Hebrew and Greek in seminary. Of those who did study the biblical languages, MOST got away with half a year in Hebrew and half a year in Greek. Of the students who did complete the minimum requirements, maybe 1 in FIVE HUNDRED persued it as far as an intermediate level.

From what I recall, one of the more academically 'rigorous' institutions doesn't require mdiv students to study ANY biblical language.

So don't go saying "as a pastor, let me tell you what the bible says"

The facts are in, and using those old standby passages to indicate what God's perfect plan is doesn't work. You are simply wrong.

For years, professors, and pastors with an academic yearning have remained quiet, trying to peaceably 'lead' congregations... But in reality, they are aimply too afraid to teach.

They are afraid of conflict
They are afraid to lose their career or popularity.

But the truth is: seeing biblical condemnation of same sex relationships is seeing it incorrectly.

Jeff Martens-Koop:
Railing against pastors then boldly proclaiming that you have the truth, "But the truth is: seeing biblical condemnation of same sex relationships is seeing it incorrectly." without giving a logical, authoritative basis for your statement is quite careless and pointless.

As Christians and Mennonites we recognize that the Bible is the inspired word of God for humanity and is the sole rule for our faith and practice (please see 2 Timothy 3:16 and the Confession of Faith From a Mennonite Perspective, Article 4)
You are correct in saying that it is not up to pastors to tell you what the Bible says. It is up to each of us to read it and study it for ourselves. However, it is also up to each one of us to accept the authority of the word of God.

If you say something like "But the truth is: seeing biblical condemnation of same sex relationships is seeing it incorrectly" without carefully proving that that is what God said and meant in the Scriptures, then you are claiming to be the final authority in yourself.

If you make such a statement and then appeal to another human authority that might carry some weight, but in the end, the clear wording of the word of God is the ultimate and final authority.

Blessings to you as you read and study the word of God carefully and sincerely.

God at work in the church?? NO, the devil is clearly at work in this church and all others where gay marriage is accepted. The Bible is not out-dated; and as much as the world accepts immorality it most certainly is not acceptable for the church to follow! Will the Church take a stand on pedophilia in a few years when society slips even further in its' moral decay? How about bestiality? Will that be accepted? Are there no moral absolutes; even within the church? Well, I am a Bible believing, born-again Christian and my God doesn't EVER CHANGE His mind; if my God accepts homosexual marriage then He is a liar....and then I may as well throw the Bible in the garbage....BUT WAIT....I CANNOT DO THAT....for my God HAS NOT, WILL NOT CHANGE...EVER! Romans 1:27-28 "Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman,burned in their lust for one another,men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due." 28. "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;" So, make no mistake about it God has rejected homosexuality and considers it an abomination and ALL who practice it and ALL who condone it are NOT Christians....because in verse 32 it says,"who,knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." There is no peace with God without accepting the grace of God, which is given ONLY to those who REPENT!

Light and darkness are simply useless entities all on there own.The dance begins when darkness meets light.It's at that point that we witness the "Reign of God".
Your fears will consume you, they will destroy your very being and yet there are many paths to God.
Think of the path Saul took before he was brought to his knees.
Blinded by a light so powerful enough to become tranformed into a knew being.
Whether you choose the path of descent,or the path of love,be rest assured that you cannot resist what is true!

Pages

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.