Written by Gregg Brekke
First Congregational UCC of Berkeley celebrated the weddings of eighteen same-sex couples during Sunday worship Oct. 19.
The church sent a widespread invitation earlier in the month welcoming couples who wanted to have their weddings blessed by a faith community, regardless of their denomination, faith tradition or membership at the church.
Same-sex couples have been able to marry in the state of California since May 15 when the state supreme court overturned a state law forbidding the practice.
During the service, couples were invited to stand in the chancel to receive red roses and introduced themselves. The congregation responded with a standing ovation. Couples then proceeded into the middle of the sanctuary and received a blessing led by the Rev. Patricia de Jong, the church's senior minister.
The service featured music by the Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus and pianist Amy Hiestand, who played several familiar wedding pieces during the prelude and postlude.
Minister of Art and Communication, Phil Porter, joined de Jong for a humorous recounting of the story of the wedding at Cana and then they shared their reflections on marriage, weddings, and the new ability of same-sex couples to be legally married.
De Jong has been performing same-sex weddings since 1984, and spoke of her feelings after signing her first marriage certificate for a gay couple. "It wasn't until the very moment that they handed me the piece of paper to sign my name that I realized that it was an amazing moment of transformation."
Porter also reflected on the long lines of couples that came to city hall when San Francisco first started issuing marriage certificates. "It is such a deep desire within us to have our relationships honored in community. Why shouldn't that opportunity be available to all of God's children?"
First Congregational has been active in their advocacy for marriage equality. On Sunday, Sept. 14, the church voted unanimously to oppose Proposition 8, a voter initiative on the November ballot that seeks to amend the constitution to make marriage between same-sex couples illegal.
The church's "Marriage Equality Ministry Team" has also established a phone bank to promote opposition to Proposition 8 in addition to actively distributing voter information materials.