Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Take Me as I Am: Wedding Program of the Reverend and Doctor

"Take, O, take me as I am,
summon out what I shall be,
set your seal upon my heart,
and live in me"

John L. Bell

Welcome to the Wedding of 
The Reverend Rachel Johannan Bahr, M. Div. 
Doctor Gabrielle Mary-Willow Bychowski, Ph. D. 
At First Congregational Church, Southington 
18 February 2018

Rachel’s ring is inspired by the Gold Tree of Valinor, Laurelin. The band is rose gold with a circular sun-disk surrounding a central diamond.

Gabby’s ring is inspired by the Silver Tree of Valinor, Telperion. The band is white gold in the “willow style.” The gemstone is moissanite, chosen because she loves things that come to be via laboratory assistance, loves the stars (moissanite is not natural on Earth except from meteorites), and while diamonds shed a white light, moissanite creates rainbows.


The Wedding Party

Team Gabby
Colors: Black and Silver

Maid of Honor

Dr. Erin Sheley 

Erin lives in Alberta. She works as an Assistant Professor, at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. She attended George Washington University with Gabby during her Ph.D. She is the Ron Swanson to Gabby’s Leslie Knope.


Emily Hofstaedter 

Emily lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She works as an actor and theater professional. She attended The George Washington University with Gabby during her M.A. She shares Gabby’s love of medieval history and Catholicism, as well as medieval reenactment. 

Megan Bowman 

Megan lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, Matt, and cat, Kitty Rose. She works as an intellectual property attorney. She attended DePaul University with Gabby during her B.A. She knows elvish and helped order the Tolkien inspired sections of the service.

Maria Carson

Maria lives half-time in Syracuse, New York and half in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with her husband, Dan. She is a Dissertation Fellow at the Humanities Center at Syracuse University in Religious Studies. She attended DePaul University with Gabby during her BA, as well as Glenbard West High School and Hadley Jr. High with her. She once toured Japan with Gabby as part of an orchestra.

Laura Bychowski

Laura lives in Chicago, Illinois with her partner, Alex. She works as a film editor. She attended DePaul University after Gabby but walked the halls with her in Glenbard West High School, Hadley Jr. High School and Churchill Elementary School. She is her beloved sister. Among her first words to Rachel were: “don’t you dare hurt her.”

Team Rachel
Colors: Burgundy and Rose Gold

Maid of Honor

Beth Kelly

Beth and Rachel have known each other since 2004 when they were both entering Chicago Theological Seminary, and found each other relying on one another for fun and tears and beers. Beth saw Rachel’s queer before she would acknowledge her truth. She was there for the birth and early years of Clementine and Elanora.


Megan McCue

Megan's friendship in Maine was one of the brightest spots from Rachel’s ministry in York. They thoroughly enjoy bro-ing out and laughing on the silliest things. Megan also gets the credit for helping Rachel to propose to Gabby.

Rev. Heidi C. Heath

Heidi and Rachel became friends when Rachel moved to New England in 2013 and she started reaching out to folks. Rachel can’t forget Heidi’s unending encouragement, and her house calls, hugs, organic vegan food, and learning about so many things from their past in common!

Miranda Moeller

Miranda and Rachel became friends last year when theyz were connected by Heidi! They immediately found kindred spirits in one another- similar work, complex family systems, and offering support through navigating new calls, and lots of mirroring life changes/transitions!

Chapter I:
Introductory Rites



  • Wedding Party: “In Dreams”
  • The Children: “Concerning Hobbits”
  • Bride Gabby: “Take, O Take Me As I Am.”

Call to worship

One: We come, gathered to this place from all around the world to witness the joining of they who are embodying love,
Many: We come, bringing with us our cares and concerns, our memories of how love has intertwined within our own lives,

One: We come, with attentiveness to those whom we have loved, who are not here, yet still adding their blessings and shadows upon this day,

Many: We come, with gratitude for they who have been roots to trees blossoming into love: the ancestors, the teachers, the mentors, the guides... and all who have contributed to the love of Rachel and Gabby.

One: We come to this place, on this day, stretching towards all that is Holy. Calling upon the Name of the Divine.

Many: We come to lay our witness of love before Christ, to intertwine it with the love of God, and to send it forth in the Spirit of celebration.

One: Let us gather our hearts and minds for worship and witness, gratitude and joy!

The Trees of Valinor 
(Reader: Erin Sheley)

Trees are ancient sacred images with deep roots in Christian and non-Christian stories, inspiring the work of myth-makers like J.R.R. Tolkien. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin and Telperion, shining with the light of the sun and moon respectively. Each tree has seasons of sharing its light, seasons of basking in the others glow, and seasons of mutual brilliance when their grace mingles with special radiance. For reasons of personal and mythic significance, Rachel and Gabby have chosen these trees as symbols of their love and marriage.

Opening Prayer


Chapter II:
Liturgy of the Word 

The Bahr-Bychowski household is proudly interfaith, drawing on an array of traditions, primarily sharing values with the United Church of Christ and Roman Catholic Church. On this day, the threefold structure of readings (Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospel) follows Catholic convention while the sermon will be preached by an ordained UCC Minister. The Old Testament reading will be given by Gabby’s Bridesmaid Maria as it is drawn out of her Jewish tradition. The New Testament reading will be given by Rachel’s Maid of Honor Beth as it comes from her Christian tradition. The Gospel will be sung, adapted from Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, by the choir.

First Reading: Ruth 1: 8-17 
(Reader: Maria Carson)

Response: “Wherever You Will Go”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12 
(Reader: Beth Kelly)

Acclamation: “Alleluia”

Gospel: “The Canticle of Turning” 
(based on the Magnificat)


(delivered by the Rev. Dr. Chris Davies)

Chapter III:
The Celebration of Matrimony

The Questions

The Officiants will question the couple regarding their intentions to marry. Marriage is a sacrament sanctified by the Church and community but one that is distinctly initiated by the couple in response to the love and intentions placed in their hearts.


Traditional and Written.

Exchange of Rings
(Ring Bearers: Laura Bychowski and Beth Kelly)

As a circle has no beginning and end, rings are signs of unending love. The exchange of rings functions as a sign of mutual commitment to one another.


The Silmarils 
(Silmarils Bearer: Megan Bowman; Reader: Megan McCue)

In the age of the Trees of Valinor, gems were made to preserve their mingled lights for future generations. Today, Rachel and Gabby honor their children with Silmaril necklaces as an affirmation of their place in the story of love, life, and light.


Chapter IV:
Liturgy of Communion

Presentation and Preparation of the Gifts

Reflecting the processing of grain and grape (picking, crushing, and remaking), bread and wine are ancient symbols of life, death, and rebirth.


The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Communion Prayer and Rite

Communion today is performed in the UCC open-table tradition. ALL are welcome!

Lord’s Prayer [in Unison]

“Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven: The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. With the bread we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen.”

Sign of Peace 

All shake hands or embrace in an affirmation of interdependence and respect.

Lamb of God 

A recognition of the gifts of grace and peace received by our community on this day.


Communion has diverse meanings across Christian denominations. Catholics affirm the Eucharist as the body of Christ. The UCC leaves the mystery open to interpretation. By sharing bread and cup, we commit ourselves to the lives, deaths, and resurrections of one another. ALL are welcome to participate in the tradition of communion today.

With people everywhere we affirm God’s goodness at the heart of humanity, planted more deeply than all that is wrong… Thanks be to God.

The Legacy of Light 
(Reader: Emily Hofstaedter)

The Trees of Valinor are not the origin or end of the two lights. Before the Trees, existed the Great Gold and Silver Lamps. After the Trees, came the Sun and Moon, as well as the Silmarils. Light, love, and life are legacies. Today we use the tradition of lights to recognize those who have come before us, our grandparents and parents (those tied to us by blood and our chosen family) as well as all our children.



Chapter V:
Concluding Rite 


The Rainbow Connection 

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?”
Rachel & Poppa

“Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide. So we've been told and some choose to believe it. I know they're wrong wait and see
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Choir joins:
Who said that wishes would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Someone thought of that and someone believed it
And look what it's done so far
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
All of us under its spell
We know that it's probably magic
Have you been sleeping and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors
The voice might be one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm supposed to be
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me”



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Mingling of Lights: Wedding Vows of the Reverend and Doctor

"In Valinor twice every day 
there came a gentle hour of softer light 
when both trees were faint and 
their gold and silver beams were mingled"

The Silmarillion

Vows of the Golden Tree

I promise to give you nuzzles even when I'm tired or my feelings are hurt

I promise to be honest always and gentle

I promise to protect you always, to use wisdom in discerning when to act in your defense

I promise to never grow tired of your pondering or the excitement you have in sharing your comic books and other books you are reading

I promise to respect your body, mind, and soul and all the wonderful intricacies that makes you wonderfully you

I promise to challenge you to be the best you you can be, even if it gets me in trouble

I promise to let go of the things that do not matter, and be more gracious than judgmental of your growing edges

I promise to respect your boundaries of self-care

I promise to be an anchor for you when you feel as if you might fall down or apart

I promise to honor our theological differences of opinion, to celebrate our unity, and hopefully to push one another to expansive thinking

I promise to read books in common and debate ideas, disagree when necessary

I promise to see your beauty even when you aren't running anymore, and maybe your teeth are gone

I promise to honor your role as momma Gabby, and the brilliant ways you encourage our kids to think more critically, see the talents they embody, and encourage world domination by these Bahr warriors

I promise to raise kids with you, go on pilgrimages with you, support your spiritual growth and endeavors

It's taken me years to feel more at peace in my body, and I'm clear that there is nobody I would rather begin this journey than with you, I love you forever and always, I love you and I like you



Vows of the Silver Tree

To your golden light, I vow my silver tree. When the day has wearied you, as you are ready to rest, may I be the light to shine on you through the night when all other lights go out. Because I shine the brighter in your presence.

To your thirst for adventure, I vow my fellowship. When shires label you a “disturber of the peace,” the road carries you off, through mist and shadow, far from home, may I be your companion into the distant mountains. The world is a far bigger place because of you.

To your courage, I vow my loyalty. When the good fight rides out to meet you, even when all seems lost, may I be your shield maiden, guarding your back. I can’t always carry your burden but sometimes I can carry you. The world is a more resilient place because of you.

To your creativity, I vow my patient help. When the spheres whisper their secrets to your imagination, as you play and wonder, may I be your cheerleader and assistant, your editor and researcher. The world is a more interesting place because of you.

To your compassion, I vow my heart-chest. When you challenge the despair of world’s end, may I be a 2nd heart to carry laughter and tears. The world is a kinder place because of you.

To your power, I vow my hearth and home. When you set down your burdens may I be the last homely house with comfort and neck rubs. The world is a stronger place because of you.

To your western sky, I vow my waiting ships. As we marry not only into one another’s lives but also one another’s brokenness, changes, and death, may I honor not only this version of you but each version that will come. And when night falls and all the world turns to silver glass, may you sail into the west knowing that my fellowship, loyalty, help, hearth, hope, and perseverance is still with you and the good your golden light brings into this world.

To your you, I vow my me. I love you and I like you. I vow to be a mother to our children, to be your partner, your wife, and your “us” as long as long as we both shall live.



Monday, February 26, 2018

Thanks for Being You: A History of the Reverend and Doctor

Meet-Cute: a cute, charming, or amusing first encounter between romantic partners

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Thanks for being you, I really enjoyed reading your profile and feeling affirmed that there are critically minded nurturing women out there :)” (Timestamp: Jun 16, 2013 5:50pm). These are the exact first words Gabby sent to the OKCupid profile of an amazing, brainy, queer, strong, hunky, gorgeous Christian social justice warrior working in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Later that day, Rachel sent a message back to a beautiful smart academic that simply said, “Likewise :)” (Timestamp: Jun 16, 2013 5:50pm). After a conversation about Disability Studies, Our Whole Lives, the book The Queer God, C.S. Lewis, Medieval Studies, and a mutual love of Chicago, Rachel asked this lady out.

“Gabby?!” Rachel cried from the train station, realizing they had unknowingly been on the same train together to their first date. Gabby stopped mid-street and turned around, hair blowing in the summer wind, her sky blue eyes seeing Rachel’s sky blue eyes for the first time and gasped. “I think this is our meet-cute,” Gabby said as the two of them walked into Starbucks for the first of many coffee and conversations.

“I know you are going back to graduate school soon,” Rachel said, sitting next to Gabby on the bed. “Well, I don’t want this just to be a summer thing. Will you be my girlfriend?” Gabby looked away and got quiet. Rachel stirred nervously. “You don’t have to, I’ll understand.” “That’s not it,” Gabby said, “I just feel like I’ve been waiting, getting ready for you to ask me that question for a long time; and the weird thing is, I feel like I’ve been waiting for much longer than just a summer. Like I’ve been waiting for you.” After a kiss and a laugh, Rachel said, “likewise.”


“Is it fair to you to take a job at a Church that isn’t Open and Affirming?” Rachel asked after a call to minister in Maine. “We agreed from the start that our relationship would mean taking care of these kids and supporting each other. We should go because we will be going into it together.” Thus began the saga of life in a wooded seaside town with a lot of love and some grief, including Rachel facing down a police officer who had stopped Gabby (on the ground she was a “strange person” in the town; not the actual word used) when she was out with the kids for a walk. Later that day, when she found Gabby sitting crying in their bedroom closet, Rachel silently sat down next to her and there they stayed for half an hour because they were in this thing together.

“What excites me about us,” Gabby said to Rachel while they were driving down the beach in Maine on Valentine’s Day, the dark waves crashing on the rocks, “is that we aren’t just bound to each other by love but we are both pulled together by a love of a road and a horizon bigger than either of us. I think we will go the distance.” Rachel just smiled because she knew something Gabby didn’t. Later that night when Gabby went to jump Rachel’s car when it “broke-down” at the Church, she saw the lights on in the sanctuary. Opening the door, she saw Rachel singing the first verses to “Origin of Love.” Gripping the pews to keep from passing out, Gabby found her way to the end of the aisle where Rachel knelt down, ring in hand. “Will you marry me?” Rachel asked. “Yes. Yes. Yes!”

“I say this to all of Rachel’s churches,” Gabby remarked after the family moved to Connecticut for a new calling, “She is a warrior. Her job is to watch the whole Church’s back and protect it. But my job is to watch Rachel’s back.” People usually laugh when she says this. She means it. Months later, they were driving down together to Washington DC for Gabby’s Ph.D. dissertation defense. “Your job is to defend your research and your field,” Rachel said, “my job is to defend you.” Gabby laughed. Rachel means it.



“For all we do, all we become,” Rachel said, holding Gabby next to the grave of J.R.R. Tolkien, “it’s because we stand on the shoulders of giants.” As the culmination of a pilgrimage around England, visiting Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, C.S. Lewis, and William Shakespeare, there was something quieting and humbling touching the tree that grows out of the grave of the beloved author ornamented with trinkets from generations of previous pilgrims; testament to the way we light the path of one another as we struggle to find the road.

“I don’t say this to all my clients, or really any of them,” the Marriage Consular said to Gabby and Rachel during their final wedding prep session, “but you two are the most in love people I’ve met. I mean it. I think you can handle what life throws your way together.” Rachel and Gabby held hands and smiled. They think so too. After months of preparation for the ceremony and a life-time of preparation for one another, Rachel, Gabby, and the kids are gathering together with friends and family to say vows that affirm the love, mutual respect and support, partnership, and home they have built together. They still have each other’s back.