PRAIRIE GROVE – Finding someone to stick with for the long haul, who will bring out a person’s best self and their partner’s best self, is a hard enough task without making gender an issue, the Rev. Catherine Erwin said.
She’s one of a dozen or so area religious leaders who have signed up as supporters of same-sex marriages willing to perform marriage ceremonies once county clerks begin issuing licenses June 1.
The list was put together by Equality Illinois, a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and covers the greater Chicago area.
The list is dominated by several Christian denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church of the United States, the United Methodist Church, and especially, United Church of Christ. There are also many Unitarian Universalist and Jewish reformed and conservative congregations represented.
Erwin, who has lived in McHenry since the early 1990s, just started as the pastor at Faith Community, a United Church of Christ parish in Prairie Grove, in February. She has been a member of the church since 1991, long before she decided to go to seminary and become a pastor.
“I’ve always been in favor [of same-sex marriage],” she said. “I never saw that there was a reason not to. In fact, in this day and age, all of the arguments against it don’t make any sense in a lot of contexts.”
The Rev. Jess Harren, who has been the pastor at Capron Lutheran Church just west of Harvard for nearly two years, agrees, especially since some similar Bible verses that have been used to condemn same-sex relationships have also been aimed at women.
“I think that in order for things to change in the world, there needs to be pressure from both inside organizations and outside organizations,” she said. “I really feel like part of my personal call to ministry is healing some of the hurts that the church has historically caused in the world.”
But for many of these churches, the decision didn’t just come down to the pastor.
Each United Church of Christ parishioner had a vote to decide whether they would allow same-sex marriages in their church and whether their pastor would be allowed to perform them.
The vote was unanimous at the Rev. Lance Lackore’s First Congregational Church in Huntley – though some parishioners abstained.
Leading up to the vote, Lackore brought in other pastors who were more educated on this area to lead a conversation on the topic from a Biblical perspective.
“It was awesome because that’s the kind of church I want to serve, one that welcomes all of God’s children,” he said, adding the vote also affirmed the acceptance of the congregation’s openly gay and not openly gay members.
The move for some religious institutions to be more openly welcoming regardless of sexual or gender orientation has brought some people back the church, Erwin said.
Some of the visitors told her they simply haven’t been at church for so long they can’t remember, she said, adding that she plans on doing outreach to spread the word about open churches.
Harren also has spoken to another pastor about officiating the marriages of same-sex couples in their parish because that denomination doesn’t allow it. Her parish also recently got rid of a separate fee structure for non-parishioners under the idea that “in the kingdom of God, there aren’t insiders and outsiders.”
“I’d just be happy if people are worshipping God and having a relationship with Jesus,” she said. “If that’s in my church, great, wonderful, but if that’s not in my church, I’d rather they be with Jesus in someone else’s church than not know Jesus at all.”