I first met Michael Baldwin and Uriel Orellano when they attended a Couple Enrichment workshop led by my husband and me at Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.). Couples who were part of an ongoing Couple Enrichment Group at Bethesda (Md.) Meeting urged Michael and Uriel to attend the workshop before they joined the group, so they would understand better the couple dialogue process and the way the group functioned. Michael and Uriel participated in the program, learned the basic skills of couple dialogue and the principles and practices of couple enrichment, and joined Bethesda’s ongoing group, which met monthly in various couples’ homes. Couple Enrichment provided a nurturing and supportive environment for Michael and Uriel as their relationship grew and flourished.
After Michael and Uriel moved their home, they attended Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting, where my husband and I are members. Shortly after that, Michael was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He entered an aggressive course of treatment, which concluded in the fall of 2006. After his treatment ended, we invited Michael and Uriel to participate in a weekend couple enrichment retreat that we were leading. At that retreat, both of them were upbeat and hopeful about the future, despite being exhausted from the ordeal of the disease and treatment. Staying up late into the night, we talked about their future. They were clear that they wanted to have a marriage that was blessed by God and the Quaker community, and someday enjoy a civil marriage acknowledged by the government. We talked about how part of that dream might be realized within the Quaker community. They left the retreat feeling supported and nurtured, and ready to face their future together.
By Christmas 2006, Michael was re-hospitalized. After many tests it was determined that the cancer had spread to his brain. I visited Uriel at the hospital, along with a member of Bethesda’s Couple Enrichment Group. Uriel asked for our help to arrange a marriage under the care of Sandy Spring Meeting. Michael was a member of Montclair (N.J.) Meeting, and in consultation with members of that meeting we discerned that it would be in right order for them to take the marriage under their care with the local support of Sandy Spring Meeting.
Within 24 hours of being approached, Montclair Meeting held an emergency called meeting for worship with a concern for business, approved taking Michael and Uriel’s marriage under their care, and appointed an oversight committee and a co-clerk to serve with me as the local on-site person. They also arranged for members to travel to Washington, D.C., for the meeting for worship for marriage scheduled for the next day.
On that wedding day, silently and almost tiptoeing, about 20 of us walked through the Intensive Care Unit at the Washington Hospital Center to Michael’s bedside, trying not to disturb others in neighboring rooms who were very ill and struggling for life. We gathered in Michael’s small room around his bed, squeezed into a tiny space. Michael’s sister, standing in for him because he had fallen back into a coma, stood at his head. Next to her was Uriel. I stood at the foot of Michael’s bed after gently placing the Marriage Quilt (p. 37) over him as a way of “dressing” him for the solemn and joyous but bittersweet event that was about to occur. A video camera was connected to a laptop in the room, extending the meeting for worship for marriage to another 20 witnesses gathered in the ICU waiting room.
I offered a brief description of a Quaker wedding for those in the hospital and others participating in the worship via the Internet. We settled into deep silence. Out of the waiting worship, Uriel said his marriage vows and Michael’s sister spoke the vows on behalf of her brother. They signed the certificate. We all sang “Down by the Riverside,” Michael’s favorite song, very softly, and settled back into worship.
After about 20 minutes we silently filed out of the ICU, gathered the others present in the family waiting room, and snaked our way through hospital corridors to a large conference room. We arranged the chairs in a circle and re-entered worship. Someone brought in the laptop, and we were aware that friends had joined the meeting for worship via Internet links from as far away as Hawaii, London, Luxemburg, Dallas, and Connecticut. The worship was deep and centered, with messages of celebration, love, and joy. Some messages were delivered electronically and read to the rest of us.
Two days later, Michael succumbed to the cancer that had entered his brain. He left this Earth surrounded by the love and caring of his partner and now husband, and those who had participated in this very special occasion.
A marriage under the care of Friends is a precious sacrament. I felt privileged to be a witness to the growth of Michael and Uriel’s relationship, which culminated in their profession of faith and love “in the presence of God and these our friends.”
There is great beauty and power in our sacred marriage process, and in being “taken under the care” of a meeting. Michael and Uriel understood this beauty and power and wanted to have their love and relationship blessed in this way. They stood in the midst of the Divine Presence through Friends who gathered together in a solemn and joyous occasion to bring this blessing to them.
We were blessed by the use of technology. Michael was a computer expert and a proponent of technology and its capacity to create a spiritual pathway between and among people. On this occasion, the technology was skillfully and sensitively incorporated into our worship and celebration, helping to broaden the witness of this solemn and joyous occasion across continents.
I celebrate that the Couple Enrichment Program, and the couples who participated in couple enrichment groups with Michael and Uriel, brought that Divine Presence to them when they were new to an area and needed a supportive place to grow and sustain their relationship. And many of us were present for them at a time of great need and joy.
Michael Baldwin and Uriel Orellano were married under the care of Montclair Meeting, with the assistance of Sandy Spring Meeting, on February 3, 2007. Michael passed away on February 5. Uriel continued to participate in Bethesda’s Couple Enrichment Group until the fall of 2008.