At the altar, one journey ends and another begins
Teresa and Sunshine (McManus) Fugit were the first same-sex couple blessed at the local church since a new policy was unanimously adopted by the church governing board in April. But it was not the first for Harrop, who has been allowed to bless same-sex unions since 2004, as long as it was off-site.
In the 2004 action, the board gave him and any pastor who might follow him the authority to conduct same-gender blessings off-site. But out of sensitivity for the church’s more conservative minority, it decided separate board action would be required to allow a church ceremony.
Even then, Harrop said, he can’t confer legal marriage on a same-sex couple, as that is not currently allowed in Oregon.
Teresa and Sunshine wanted to have a large ceremony in the church both attend, so Harrop went to the board on the their behalf.
Bill Apel, moderator for the board, solicited input from members of the church and others he respects. After receiving the responses, the board voted unanimously to allow the blessing of same-sex unions at the church as a matter of policy.
“Everybody thinks freely in our church,” Apel said. “That’s one of the values — freedom of conscience.
“We wanted to be as sensitive as we could to people not in favor of the policy. There are people of good will on both sides of the issue.”
Sunshine said the death of her biological father brought her to the church last November. She needed guidance and found it through Harrop.
Initially, she went alone.
After she and Teresa decided to get married, they underwent pre-marital counseling with Harrop, who said he used the same system he does for opposite-sex couples. It includes sessions on good communications, conflict resolution, individual hopes and dreams, budgets, short- and long-term goals and spiritual values.
At that point, they both decided they wanted to participate more actively in the church.
“The important thing is a good relationship has good respect,” said Harrop. “This is a couple that has a good faith.
“It wasn’t just two people making a life commitment. God was in this as well.”
As he does with traditional couples, Harrop said he asked for God’s blessing on Teresa and Sunshine.
“That transcends whether you’re straight or gay,” Harrop said. “Love is love.”
In Washington, Teresa said her family took care of everything for the ceremony held at her aunt’s house. “I just had to show up and be married to the woman I love,” she said.
Teresa said the McMinnville blessing was beautiful and drew a big crowd. “I couldn’t stop smiling,” she said.
As the evening ceremony started, Sunshine said her hands shook so much she thought she was going to drop her bouquet.
It was a traditional event, with Teresa not seeing Sunshine until she walked down the aisle in her wedding gown. Their mothers lit a unity candle and gave each other High Fives.
“We stuck with tradition because I don’t see a difference between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man,” Sunshine said. “We tried to be as traditional as we could.”
After the ceremony, Sunshine danced with her dad and Teresa danced with both her parents.
Apel gave credit to the Rev. Bernie Turner, Harrop’s predecessor, for paving the way to get the church where it is today.
“In talking with some of the gay members, they don’t want to be singled out,” Apel said. What they want is to be included and treated like everyone else.
“This was a celebration for a lot of us on a lot of different levels,” Harrop said. “It’s a culmination of a long journey into inclusivenesses.”
Sunshine said there were many youth involved in the ceremony, as she has two children.
“This was just another step in our journey together,” she said. “I feel it’s important for kids who are struggling with their own identity to see a strong couple.
“For us, it’s about maintaining our relationship and marriage is marriage. You can marry whoever you want and be happy with whoever you want.”
Teresa said, “I just want to live a long life with my soulmate.”
Both agreed the ceremony was great. It meant a lot to them have friends and relatives be part of it.
“When we exchanged vows, the sun came through the window,” Sunshine recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘God is here. He approves.
“My pastor’s here. My church family is here.”
“It was perfect,” Teresa said.
“We would have liked to have been married in the state of Oregon, and we know that will come,” Sunshine said. But this was the next best thing.
Apel said that the couple’s blessing ceremony has capped a long road for the church.
“This is not a trendy thing we’re doing,” Apel said. “It’s just coincidental that the Supreme Court is dealing with it.”
“In the 20 years I’ve been in McMinnville, I’ve seen this community be much more open to the gay and lesbian community,” Harrop said.
Sunshine felt the celebration was for the entire church, including others who may have wanted to hold their ceremonies at the church in the past, but were hesitant to force the issue. She said even members she hadn’t yet met attended in support.
“I feel like this was the last step to be inclusive,” she said. “There’s nothing I can’t do because I’m gay.”
“A lot of churches have a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Harrop said. “That’s not who we want to be. It’s not who we are.”
Looking at Sunshine and Teresa, he told them, “It’s a gift to our community. You two helped us move forward.”