Bruce and Chuck Mead-e in their Georgetown, Delaware home. Photo courtesy of the couple

Jackson Native Confronts Bigotry in Delaware Church

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Charles Mead-e collected more than 13,000 signatures two years before marriage equality was legalized in the state of Delaware on July 1, 2013.

"I've already had to ask 25,000 people if I could marry someone who I love," said the Georgetown resident, adding that he shouldn't have to be reminded of that struggle today. So when a sign that read, "It's Adam and Eve not Steve - God," was posted recently outside the Providence United Methodist Church, Mead-e said he was "furious."

After a friend of his posted pictures of the insensitive sign on Facebook, Mead-e drove by the church contemplating.

"It was either place a burning cross in the church's front yard or write a letter to the district superintendent," he said. Mead-e chose the latter.

Over the course of a few days, Mead-e shared his thoughts with Rev. Dr. Kyung-Hee Sa, the superintendent of the church, which is part of the United Methodist Church's Peninsula-Delaware Conference and falls under the Dover district. His correspondence on July 2 included the Rev. Regina Reeves, who became pastor at Providence on July 1 when her husband, Walter Reeves, retired.

He explained to them that the sign, which came down after about a week, was "more than just offensive." That it is "mean spirited" and the church owed the LGBTQ community an apology.

Reflecting on his journey, Mead-e recalls the time when he tried to run an engagement announcement in his local paper, the Jackson Citizen-Patriot, in 2008. As a resident of Jackson, Michigan for more than 30 years, he said they wanted to celebrate this news with the community.

Mead-e graduated from both Jackson Community College and Spring Arbor University. As the secretary for PFLAG Jackson for several years, he said he has numerous ties to the Jackson and state communities.

"I still have my home there and more than likely will retire there as well," said Mead-e, noting he is aware of the recent victory for LGBTQ rights in his hometown.

Anti-LGBTQ discrimination is no longer legal in Jackson as of April 11 when a non-discrimination ordinance took affect.

Mead-e's testimony described his relationship with his husband, Bruce. The couple met on Valentine's Day in 2007 while they were both vacationing in Florida. On February 21, 2009, they had a commitment ceremony at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, Delaware. They celebrated a civil union three years later on February 21, 2012. In their fifties at the time, Mead-e said he remembers asking himself while saying their vows, "How much time will we have together?"

Such an important question for a couple now in their sixties that embraced their gay identity to start a meaningful relationship later in life. During the last three and a half years Bruce has been battling lung cancer on and off, which USA Today explores in an article titled "How Long Have I Got?: Why Many Cancer Patients Don't Have Answers." Mead-e said they will know more about how much time they have together this September.

'This Is Not Who We Are'

In an email response to Mead-e, Sa extended his sincere apology.

"I am saddened by such disrespect and judgment for human beings in the name of God. I know where Rev. Walt and Rev. Regina are in their hearts and theology while struggling with some people's one-sided views. I am grateful that the sign was immediately taken out and the church leaders are led to have serious conversation on what they are not supposed to do and be."

It was explained to Mead-e via email by Walter Reeves, who was in charge of the church at the time, that the sign was "put up by an individual member of the church without pastoral leadership knowledge or approval. I would like you to know that there has never been a message like that preached at that church."

Bishop Peggy Johnson told the Dover Post on July 8 that, "We apologized [to Mead-e]. In every way, we are making amends. It was an educational experience. We got to hear his heart and why these things are painful."

According to Johnson - who serves Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the eastern Pennsylvania area and is the person to whom Sa reports - the message was contrary to the social principals of the UMC and that the individual that posted the sign has expressed regret.

In the report, Johnson said, "[The person who posted the sign] is very sorry...she didn't realize the impact and it's simply never going to happen again."

As for that person, Mead-e said, "I haven't talked with her, so I have to take it at face value...My thoughts are that the soundbite coined in the '70s has been around for so long that people just assume that it's factual and don't think of the impact it has had. I was just awestruck that a church finally said 'It's wrong.' It will probably take another 50 years to remove the soundbite from our culture."

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