A couple of weeks ago, Wendy wrote a blog post about mixed-orientation marriages in the Generous Space Community. (Mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) usually include one spouse who is straight, and one who is on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.)
In Wendy’s blog post, she acknowledged that there is no single “right” path for MOMs. There are all kinds of factors that influence the way couples choose to proceed.
Some LGBTQ+ spouses have more fluidity in their attractions than others.
Some couples are aware of the LGBTQ+ spouse’s orientation before getting married; some are not.
Some have young children, some have older children, some have no children.
Some have supportive friends and communities of faith where they can speak openly about the unique challenges of their marriage, and some do not.
Some MOMs have navigated the added challenge of dealing with one or both spouse’s infidelity.
Differences like these make it unwise to collapse MOMs into a single narrative, or to recommend a “one-size-fits-all” course of action. In our community, we seek to make space for MOM couples no matter what they decide. Still, we tend to see two main outcomes: couples either choose to remain in their marriage, or they divorce.
But for Pieter and Susie Niemeyer, a MOM couple in the Ontario Generous Space Community, neither of these options seemed like a good fit.
It had been three years since Pieter, a Mennonite pastor, had come out to Susie as a gay man, and they had journeyed together through the difficult process of coming out more publicly. (You can watch this videotaped conversation between Pieter and Susie from last year’s Ontario GS Retreat to hear more of their story in their own words.) Susie and Pieter felt called to release each other from their marriage vows in order to free one another to flourish. But they also felt called to continue “being family” together with their three young adult children, committing to one another as a “queerly covenanted” couple, so a divorce did not seem like the right choice for them at this point.
Instead of continuing in their MOM, or ending it in divorce, Pieter and Susie prepared to forge a third path forward. Last fall, they decided to mark their transition from MOM to “queerly covenanted couple” by planning a “Ceremony of Release and Embrace.” This would not only give them a sense of closure and blessing, but it would also allow their friends and family to make the transition with them, and support them in their new path. I (Beth) was privileged to be invited to join Michele Rizoli, their friend and Mennonite pastor, in crafting and leading this unique ceremony for them.
On October 22nd, surrounded by over 100 friends and family, including many LGBTQ+ Christians from the Generous Space community, we tearfully and joyfully walked with Susie and Pieter into the next phase of their journey together. It was a profound experience to bear witness to the courageous, tenacious love between Pieter and Susie, and to surround them with our own love and support. As we watched them remove their rings from their left hands and replace them on their right hands, speaking words of release and embrace, the Holy Spirit was tangibly present.
Susie and Pieter have graciously agreed to share the script of their ceremony below, in hopes that it might become a resource for other MOM couples who need imagination for a “third way” forward. Please write to us and let us know if you find it useful – we will also pass your words along to them.
NOTE: Use the arrows in the bottom left corner of the PDF to advance the pages.Ceremony of Release & Embrace