Religious Commitment Ceremony


BOB ABERNETHY, host: Finally, a love story about two old friends, Ginny Shedd and Wil Bloom, both in their seventies, both strongly religious. Both had lost their spouses. They fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. But getting married turned out to be a problem, and they did not want to just live together. So they found another way.

It’s called a ceremony of commitment. It’s a completely religious wedding-like service, with no legal involvement by the state. No marriage license. No official recognition. No use of the words “marriage” or “husband” or “wife.”

REV. ANN ABERNETHY: In the presence of God and in the name of love, you—Ginny and Wil—come to have your union blessed by God and by this congregation.

BOB ABERNETHY: Ginny Shedd and Wil Bloom met 60 years ago at the Northern Baptist, now American Baptist conference center in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We met them at the Brooksby Village retirement center in Peabody, Massachusetts, north of Boston. Each had been married and had children and grandchildren, and each had lost his or her spouse. They rediscovered each other, fell in love, and wanted to be married. But they found that, for themselves and their families, marriage could bring substantial financial problems—issues of pensions, insurance, taxes, and bequests.

post01-commitmentVIRGINIA SHEDD: The legal problems and inheritance problems with people our age with different families already in existence get very complicated.

WILBUR BLOOM: The legal entanglements that could come up later on—I mean, it could happen to be quite fierce. If one of her kids said, “Hey, wait, that’s ours, that’s not yours”—I mean, that happens.

BOB ABERNETHY: But although Wil and Ginny concluded it could be too costly to get married, as lifelong Baptists they at least wanted their relationship to be blessed by the church and respected by their families and friends.

SHEDD: We definitely wanted to be together, but we wanted to do it the proper way as an example for our own children and our grandchildren. We didn’t want to be just living together without any ceremony of any type.

BLOOM: There’s got to be something significant about what we are doing. It has to have some more meaning, and we felt that the only way to do it would be to have a ceremony or service before—not just before our friends and our family and so on, but before God.

BOB ABERNETHY: Reverend Ann Abernethy, a chaplain at Brooksby Village, knew about the service of commitment the United Church of Christ had developed originally for gays and lesbians who at that time were not allowed to marry and wanted more than a civil union. That service became the model for what Wil and Ginny chose.

post02-commitmentREV. ANN ABERNETHY: There’s a yearning in them, and that all wants to be expressed in terms of the sacred and the holy and within the context of God’s presence.

(presiding at ceremony): Appealing to God to witness to your sincerity, do you, Wilbur, take this woman who stands before you, choosing her alone from all the world to be your beloved life partner?

BLOOM: I do.

BOB ABERNETHY: And then Ginny’s promises.

REV. ANN ABERNETHY: This is my sacred vow, spoken before the God who has brought us together.

SHEDD: This is my sacred vow, spoken before the God who has brought us together.

BOB ABERNETHY: Wil and Ginny exchanged rings, they took communion together, and then they were blessed.

REV. ANN ABERNETHY: Fulfill your promises. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of one body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.

BOB ABERNETHY: We asked Wil and Ginny, looking back, how did they feel after their commitment service?

SHEDD: It just felt so, just such a feeling of warmth and correctness, and just felt like Christ was there with us.

BLOOM: I felt up. I felt good, and I said, “Holy mackerel, now Ginny and I are for real.”

SHEDD: I just felt it was right, and I think that was a relief to me. I needed to feel that this relationship was right.

BLOOM: Well, to be honest with you, I said, “Now she’s mine.”

BOB ABERNETHY: I asked Wil, what do you call each other? What do you call your situation now?

BLOOM: We are husband and wife, and when somebody we meet for the first time—“This is my wife, Ginny Shedd,” and she says, “This is my husband, Wil Bloom,” and as far as, you know, we are concerned, we are husband and wife until death do us part.

BOB ABERNETHY: I am grateful to my cousin, Reverend Ann Abernethy, for telling us about Wil and Ginny, and to Wil and Ginny for letting us use their video.

  • Channah

    Lovely commitment, and lovely idea. I do hope most will respect it. I know my parents never would have-then, everything was a sin, to them. A widowed friend, much older than them, became blind, and his lady friend moved in with him to care for him. My parents disowned them-saying he shoukd go to a nursing home. How cruel can ”holier than thou” people sometimes be.

  • Bob Mueller

    One can only wonder if this couple would have chosen a civil union had Wisconsin offered that option. It’s something we talked about as we promoted the civil union bill in Illinois. In addition to LGBT familes and seniors, families formed by two disabled individuals face the same issues if they were to marry.

    The inheritance issue is interesting, and I’m glad you mentioned that early on. It would be interesting to see how the potential heirs approve or disapprove of seniors entering civil unions.

  • MW

    Its sad that our elderly have feel forced to suppress their beliefs and feelings because others think they have a right to what’s theirs. The truth of the matter is when they are married, whats theirs is theirs. Unless they have no minor children, nothing belongs to anyone else. To have a persons partner worried that others would not honor their rights or try to take away something from the other spouse is cruel. This is not a legal marriage, so whatever may be left would be for the buzzards to fight over while a spouse left behind and deserving of it would be punished. This is sad.

    But I do love the idea of them feeling accepted by the church and being partners in this union.

  • Rev. Jeannette Solimine

    This is a beautiful solution for what can be a complicated issue between older people because of their families and the laws — especially tax laws — make it too complicated. So what if it isn’t legal. They want to be married before God, the church, their families and friends, and aren’t interested in the laws per se. My grandmother did remarry in her 60s, but her husband’s family and our family got along very well, and they set up their assets and how things would work in conjuction with their adult children. Not everyone is so lucky. They have both since passed away. I don’t know if they would have chosen this option (they married in the ’70s) had it been available, but I do know older couples who have chosen not to marry because of the complications. I have recommended this option to several.

  • Edwartd Huff

    It is sad that seniors and others have to resort to this-but, at the same time, it is a wonderful way to have religious commitment without the use of the word marriage which opens up the secular “can of worms”.

  • Margaret Fex

    I was widowed at age 41. I had a beautifiul, happy, loving marriage with my husband, and on his deathbed, he gave me his blessing to love again, by taking my hands, looking me in the eye and saying, “Mag, you are too good a woman to be alone for the rest of your life. My wish for you is that you will find a good man, who will love you, appreciate you & treat you right, and he will be a lucky man – as lucky as I have been to have had you by my side all these years.” WOW! What a gift that was, because I doubt very much that I would have felt free to love again, and would have felt disloyal if he had not given me that blessing, which I am sure was not easy for him to give – he was a rather posessive & jealous-minded man when it came to me, so it was an act of unselfish love on his part to tell me that. He had always looked out for me & my welfare during our marriage, and now he was looking out for my security & my happiness in the future.

    My husband was a fireman for over 30 years & since his death, I receive a pretty decent pension from the fire department, which happens to be almost 70% tax-free, because my husband died from a line-of-duty disability. But, if I remarry, I completely lose the entire pension. Several years after my husband died, I met a really wonderful man & we fell in love with each other, and have remained so for the past 9 years. I feel so fortunate in this – because my current sweetheart is exactly the kind of man that my husband hoped I would find & be loved by, and I love him so much. He is just a very special, unusual man. I would love to remarry but losing that pension would be a tremendous hardship for me, and it also feels sort of like it would be dishonoring my late husband if I just gave up what he worked so hard & risked – and ultimately gave up – his life for in fighting fires for over 30 years. I had cared for him through 8+ years of cancer & end-stage heart & lung disease, so in a way, both of us felt that I had earned that money, too.

    My boyfriend and I have been struggling about our status. It is more my problem than his, and I know he would marry me and support me if I decided to give up the pension. But it seems complicated and not right. We have discussed having a commitment ceremony but I really did not have any idea of how that could be done in a way that was both solemn & joyful…something that would feel authentic and not just a “fake wedding”. Seeing this segment about Ginny and Will made me feel hopeful that there is a way to do this that is not tacky and “faux marriage”. Neither of us is particularly religious but I feel like a blessing of some kind & the presence of people we care about & who wish us well would be meaningful. Thank you for airing this story. It has given me some ideas about how we can create a union that works for us and publicly acknowledges the love & commitment to one another that we share as a couple,

  • Armando Anzoli

    I am a ministry student and a born again follower of Christ this type of ceromoney is very biblical and nessasary in a number of cases of disabled and elderly social security recipiants I can say that from my own experiance with 2 couples who recieve ssi they lost almost half of there food stamp benefits reducing them by this amount resulted in about less 190.00 in groceries per month and made them dependent on the state food bank and left them with 50% less income from ssa as a result of legal marriage the covenant of marriage is accepted or rejected by god who married adam and eve? God did I just thought I also give you a couple of references to support faith based comitment ceromonies wich I also do and think god does as well

    New Living Translation (NLT)

    Matthew 19:6

    6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

    Genesis 2:21-25

    21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs[d] and closed up the opening. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. 23 “At last!” the man exclaimed.“This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’” 24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.

    this is why there ceromoney is in fact a marriage and based on God’s word this is a aceptable means of establishing a life long covenant of marriage

  • Lucienna

    Having been twice widowed I can recognize the importance of those seniors who love each other and want to live out their lives together in a christian way. Listening to this video I sensed the deep God-given love these people and the minister shared. It was beautiful and meaningful experience to behold. Thank you for sharing.



  • Armando Anzoli

    It might not be ceremonial marriage but that action of commitment and any joint asset or tax or insurance and introduction as a spouse may constitute a common law marriage depending on the state it is in Rhode Island. recognition of that relationship can happen at the state federal and municipal level.

  • Armando Anzoli

    which is a legal marriage in every way with no more or less rights then anyone else

  • Leslie Mann

    I am writing about different-sex commitment ceremonies for the Chicago Trib. if anyone wants to tell me about theirs, please email me at Thx!