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Devout pastor who proudly officiated his gay son’s wedding knowing he’d be stripped of his title dies aged 102

Lily Wakefield October 6, 2020
gay mennonite wedding

Chester Wenger passed away at 102. (Steven T Dinnocenti/ Facebook)

A former Mennonite pastor who was stripped of his credentials for officiating his gay son’s same-sex wedding has passed away at the age of 102.

In 2014, at the age of 96, Chester Wenger risked everything to stand up for his gay son by writing an open letter to the Mennonite church.

Writing to The Mennonite, Chester described how his son, Phil Wenger, had been excommunicated by the church 35 years previously when he had come out as gay.

“When my wife and I read the Bible with today’s fractured, anxious church in mind, we ask, what is Jesus calling us to do with those sons and daughters who are among the most despised people in the world — in all races and communities?” he wrote.

“What would Jesus do with our sons and daughters who are bullied, homeless, sexually abused, and driven to suicide at far higher rates than our heterosexual children?”

Chester explained that when Pennsylvania legalised same-sex marriage in 2014, his son and his partner immediately applied for a marriage license, having already been together for 27 years.

mennonite pastor officiates gay son's wedding
Mennonite pastor Chester Wenger at his gay son’s wedding in 2014. (Steven T Dinnocenti/ Facebook)

“Subsequently they asked me if I would marry them,” Chester continued.  “I happily agreed.”

Chester married the couple in a private garden ceremony with only six persons present.

“Our son and his partner are members of an Episcopal Church, but they chose my wife and me to share with them in this holy covenant of marriage.”

My act of love was done on behalf of the church I love, and my conscience is clear.

Soon after, a Mennonite committee decided to strip his credentials. At the time, he said he was “at peace with their decision” because: “My act of love was done on behalf of the church I love, and my conscience is clear.”

Six years later, on Friday (October 2), Chester Wenger passed away at the incredible age of 102.

His son-in-law Steven Dinnocenti wrote on Facebook: “Today we lost our hero, our dad Chester Wenger… We are deeply heartbroken by this loss, and saddened, but we know that his legacy of giving to others through his convictions and love will always live on.”

In his 2014 letter, Chester had explained his motivation to serve the LGBT+ community.

“We know that while many of us hear different things from the scriptures, God’s deepest desire, as made known in Jesus Christ, is to seek and to save that which was lost,” he wrote.

“We believe this is an opportune moment for the church to boldly proclaim a pastoral, grace-filled readiness to include both homosexuals and heterosexuals within the blessing of a marriage covenant designed to be wholesome and God-honouring.

“This is the light that has been burning more and more brightly under my bushel, and I am now prepared finally, as a 96-year-old, still zealous missionary, to let it shine.”

Dinnocenti said that Chester’s letter “was read over 240,000 times… and seen in over 175 countries through numerous publications”.

He continued: “This opened up a universal conversation not only in the Mennonite Church but other denominations for all LGBTQ individuals and their families… [He was a] God-loving wonderful man who led by example and caused a global conversation about what love means.

“May he rest in the eternal love of God, Oh Lord, and let your perpetual light shine on through his example to others. He truly blessed all who knew him.”

More: Chester Wenger, Mennonite, pastor, Pennsylvania, Same-sex wedding

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