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.