SASKATOON, Canada — Two Mennonite ministers in Canada have officiated the denomination’s first same-sex “wedding,” holding the service publicly in a “church” building in Saskatchewan.
Anita Retzlaff and Patrick Preheim of Nutana Park Mennonite Church officiated the ceremony for Craig Friesen and Matt Weins on Dec. 31, which was held at Osler Mennonite, the childhood congregation of Friesen.
“For us, a wedding is supposed to be a celebration of our commitment to each other in front of our faith communities, our other communities and God,” Friesen told CBC News. “It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t get married in the Mennonite church.”
“Having these examples that someone doesn’t have to choose between their religion and who they’re attracted to, I think that’s important,” Wiens added.
The Mennonite Church in Canada officially opposes same-sex nuptials, but last year, leadership announced that it would allow each congregation to believe as they wish on the subject in order to keep congregations from leaving the denomination.
According to reports, Nutana Park Mennonite began discussing the issue of homosexuality 15 years ago, when some who were involved in the lifestyle urged the congregation to be more accepting. A group was soon formed on how ministers would respond to the issue.
We didn’t want to be asked by a couple and not be able to respond honestly where the congregation is at,” Preheim explained to the Star Phoenix.
The question was turned back to the congregation, and in October 2012, the Nutana bulletin began featuring an “inclusive statement,” which reads, “Nutana Park Mennonite Church welcomes into fellowship and membership all persons who confess faith in Jesus Christ without regard to their race, ethnic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, income, education, ability and other factors that give rise to discrimination and marginalization.”
Then, Retzlaff and Preheim agreed to “wed” Friesen and Weins, a move that was considered to be controversial as the majority of Mennonite ministers in Canada believe that homosexual behavior is a violation of the law of God.
As previously reported, while the Mennonite Church USA is also officially opposed to homosexuality, some have expressed frustration over what they perceive to be a passive attitude toward congregations that affirm the homosexual lifestyle. Last fall, a Mennonite congregation in Ohio voted to leave the Mennonite Church USA in part due to concerns over what it believes is a lack of discipline against those who engage in homosexual behavior.
“We felt that Mennonite Church USA and [our church] were going in different directions concerning scriptural authority and holiness,” Ross Miller, pastor of Hartville Mennonite Church in Lake, told the Mennonite World Review.
He advised that concerns about various aspects grew over a number of years, but when the Mountain States Conference, a division of the Mennonite Church USA, approved the ministerial license of a Colorado woman who identifies as a lesbian, it expedited matters and resulted in a recent vote to part ways.
“We felt there needed to be church discipline, and there hasn’t been,” Miller said, referencing disappointment that the Ohio Conference failed to pass a resolution urging the denomination headquarters to address the Mountain States’ actions, as well as a statement from an executive board member that he felt was less than satisfactory.