The Mennonite minister whose church stripped him of his credentials for officiating the wedding of his gay son has died. Chester Wenger passed away Friday, October 2, in Lititz, Pennsylvania, with his family caring for him. He made history in 2014 when he officiated the wedding of his son Phil, who had been ex-communicated from the Mennonite church for being gay, and his partner Steve Dinnocenti. Wenger was 102.
"My father was a person who gave his life to his family and his church," his son, Phil Wenger, told WGAL.
The elder Wenger officiated the ceremony of his son and Dinnocenti after marriage equality became legal. Phil had been excommunicated by a single leader in the Mennonite church decades before, but Chester was adamant he wanted to preside over the ceremony. He published an open letter afterwards explaining why doing so was in accordance with his interpretation of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. He went on to challenge his “beloved church” to be more inclusive and affirming by embracing those the church traditionally cast out as sinners.
“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-honoring,” Wenger wrote at the time.
As far as Wenger was concerned, he was only asking the church to follow the example Jesus set in the scriptures.
“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?”
The Mennonite Church stripped Wenger of his credentials shortly after the letter was published.
Wenger’s life was one of selfless devotion to society, helping others through his ministry. A significant portion of his ministerial career was spent in Ethiopia from 1947 to 1967. Despite being newly married with three preschool daughters in tow (a number that would grow to eight children during this period), he went on to create the Deseret Bible School, and later the training academy for the Ethiopian Mennonite Church, as well as the secondary school Nazareth Bible Academy.
According to those who knew him, Wenger was a man unafraid of fighting for what he believed to be right.
“He stood up for his beliefs. He stood up with his convictions. He stood up for us,” Dinnocenti told WGAL.