Area churches pool resources to hire intern for advocacy work.
Already they’re preparing for 2012. Within hours of the death of the bill the Rev. Mike Morran wrote on First Unitarian Society of Denver's Facebook page: “Let it be known that the First Unitarian Society will continue to Stand on the Side of Love... We are sad today, but we are not defeated. We will continue to pray, demonstrate, lobby, sing, persuade, and show the world that discrimination hurts everyone, helps no one, and Love will eventually conquer all.”
First Unitarian Society, in connection with other Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Denver area, has taken the lead in advocating for rights for same-sex couples, in part because the congregation is only a mile from the state house, and also because marriage equality is an issue that strongly resonates with the congregation.
“This congregation takes this work seriously,” said Morran. First Unitarian became a Welcoming Congregation in 2001. As part of that process it held a Beyond Categorical Thinking (BCT) workshop, which was attended by around half of the then 200-member congregation.
“That was the highest turnout they’d ever seen for a BCT workshop,” Morran said, “so it was clear there was already a lot of interest here in this issue.” BCT workshops, developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association, help congregations examine ways they can be more inclusive in their consideration of ministerial candidates.
In 2006 the congregation, which currently has 344 members, threw itself into an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to defeat an amendment to the state constitution that limited marriage to being between one man and one woman.
But that setback, like the one this month, proved to be a beginning not an end. During the campaign, First Unitarian members made connections with other groups and congregations. Since 2006 they have engaged in an advocacy campaign for marriage equality. Next winter they will once again engage the legislature on this issue.
And this year the congregation will have even more help. It is hiring a ministerial intern, who will focus on community organizing, including same-sex marriage. Kierstin Homblette, who graduates in May from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, will start work in September.
Much of the money for Homblette’s internship will come from a gift the congregation received recently from a former member, a young gay man who found the church when he was considering suicide. “That was 12 years ago, but he still looks back on our church as his spiritual home and the place that saved his life,” Morran said. The man, who now lives in New York City, gave the church $10,000, stipulating only that the money was to be spent at the minister’s discretion. “It seemed to me this would be a perfect use of the funds,” said Morran.
That money, plus $2,000 each from First Universalist Church of Denver and Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden and $1,000 each from the UU Church of Boulder and the UUA’s Mountain Desert District, will fund the internship.
First Unitarian has had a practice for years of hosting an intern, so the congregation itself will support a second intern this fall, Lynn Hopkins, from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She will take on a more traditional intern role.
In addition to hiring an intern to focus on marriage work, First Unitarian has taken another unconventional step. In 2006, when the one man/one woman amendment was coming up for a vote, the society organized a Sunday worship service on the steps of the capitol building in downtown Denver. The service was focused on marriage and 350 people came. “We vowed to do this every year until we didn’t need to,” said Morran. “We close the church on that day, and everyone is invited to attend this service.”
Last year around 600 people came to the state house service from First Unitarian, First Universalist Church of Denver, Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, the UU Church of Boulder, Columbine UU Church in Littleton, Boulder Valley UU Fellowship in Lafayette, and others.
“We had three choirs plus keyboards and drums," said Morran. "It was rocking. I can’t tell you how energizing that service is for us. We do a blessing of couples—all couples—right there on the state house steps, using our power as a faith community to bless and hold couples together. It’s a powerful thing.”
The service also includes a flower ceremony. “When you have 600 people walking up and silently laying their flowers on the steps of the state capitol in the autumn sunshine, with two keyboards playing, it’s an amazing thing to be part of,” he said.
Morran said he is confident that civil unions will ultimately become law in Colorado. “The coalitions around this issue are as together as I’ve ever seen them.”
He noted that some people think the fight should be for marriage itself, rather than civil unions. “But others of us feel like it’s a progression—that we’ll go for the main prize a little bit later. To me civil unions are not the final answer; they’re a step on the path.”
This year a civil union bill easily passed the solidly Democratic state senate with bipartisan support but then was blocked by the House Judiciary Committee 6-5 along partisan lines. That prevented debate by the full House, where Democrats have a one-seat minority. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had been expected to sign the measure if it passed both houses.
The signs are there that Coloradoans are growing more receptive to approving rights for same-sex couples, said Morran. He noted that a 2010 poll showed that 72 percent of Coloradoans support legal recognition of same-sex couples. A domestic partnership measure in 2006 only lost by 3 percentage points.
“We don’t know if it will happen next year or the year after, but it will happen,” Morran said. “We’re going to win this, and people will see that marriage equality is not the end of the world.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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