Vows: Two Pastors in Love, and Only God Knows
Mr. Gause, who helped raise four other daughters and a son before divorcing their mother, Cathy Dodson, in 1996, held steadfast in his decision.
“Twanna very well knows I’m not for that kind of lifestyle,” he said by phone in a calm and stern tone several days after the wedding.
“I believe that God wanted us to procreate through a natural process, and by no means am I happy about this because it is unnatural,” he said. “I look at homosexuality as a mental disorder. If I start to tell you that I am an elephant, and start to behave as an elephant, that’s my choice, I choose to become an elephant. But you would probably choose to call a mental institution.”
Mr. Gause, long affiliated with the Center of Hope Church of God in Christ in Riverdale, Ga., said he had no immediate plans to contact his daughter.
“I will talk to her at some point, I suppose, if she calls me, but I will not initiate the call,” he said. “I do have some words for her that she needs to hear. I’m not going to condemn her or judge her because I don’t have that authority, but judgment has already been established by God.”
Ms. Brown, 46, and Ms. Gause, 45, both pastors of Rivers of Living Water United Church of Christ, which has locations in Newark and New York, heard much softer words on their wedding day while holding hands before the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, the presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, who read from the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. … Love hopes and endures all things,” Bishop Flunder read, as amens and hallelujahs rang out from some the 200-plus guests who flocked to celebrate a love that has endured for nearly three decades.
“Twanna and I go way, way back,” Ms. Brown said.
Once upon an Amazing Grace, two choir girls met at a church in Jersey City, and before one of them could clear her throat to sing, she thought she had already caught a glimpse of heaven.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow, what in the world, who’s that, she’s beautiful,’” recalled Ms. Gause, who was then a 16-year-old living in Paterson, N.J. “I immediately felt this kind of strange, warm feeling wash over me, and though I had not yet spoken a word to her, I could see myself loving this woman forever. My head was just spinning.”
Ms. Brown, then 18 and living in New York, was not struck by the same thunderbolt.
“I was oblivious as to how Twanna was feeling,” Ms. Brown said. “I looked at her as this adorable, skinny little girl who I initially thought was so much younger than me, and I had no idea that she liked me in any way other than as a friend.”
Ms. Gause, who said she was hoping for a connection, was crushed. “Though it broke my heart, I never said a word about my true feelings for Vanessa because I didn’t want it to hurt our friendship,” she said. “And I never said a word to my father because he was so strict, I knew he wouldn’t understand.”
Both grew up in religious families — “We didn’t hang on street corners, go to clubs or do drugs, none of that,” Ms. Gause said. But they spent time together at events sponsored by the Hiya Fellowship of the Saviour Church in Jersey City and at LaGree Baptist Church in Harlem, which were linked through a minister who served both congregations.
Their friendship continued to blossom until the day in 1990 when Ms. Gause called Ms. Brown to say that her father was moving the family to Atlanta.
“I was devastated,” Ms. Brown said. “Twanna had become my best friend in the whole world, I didn’t know what I would do without her.”
They kept in touch, and Ms. Gause moved back to Paterson in 1994, and became engaged to a man there, breaking it off in less than a year and returning to Atlanta, where she toured with a gospel choir and worked as a cosmetologist.
“That relationship just didn’t seem right,” Ms. Gause said. “Plus I still had Vanessa on my mind.”
But Ms. Brown, who was by then working as a producer and talent coordinator for “Amateur Night” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, had married a man in 2004.
“Even though I was still in love with Vanessa, I never told her it should have been me,” said Ms. Gause, who did not attend the wedding. “But I knew for sure it shouldn’t have been him.”
Time, and not much of it, proved Ms. Gause right. By May 2005, five months after it began, Ms. Brown’s first marriage was over. “I should have listened to Twanna,” she said.
Later that year, Ms. Brown invited Ms. Gause to give a guest sermon at Oasis of Love, a church in Harlem where she served as an associate pastor.
“We went to dinner and started catching up and talking about our lives,” Ms. Brown said. “Twanna seemed so much more mature than I remembered her, and she was very sound in her preaching.”
For the first time, Ms. Gause began to express her true feelings, and Ms. Brown began seeing her old friend through “a different set of eyes,” as she put it.
After dinner, they strolled through Ms. Brown’s Harlem neighborhood until they came to the brownstone where she lived. They walked up a short flight of stairs, and Ms. Brown reached for a key to open the front door. As she attempted to turn the lock, her hand was suddenly covered by Ms. Gause’s. Ms. Brown turned to find Ms. Gause gazing at her. No words were spoken, though each knew what was coming next.
“She had waited a long time to kiss me, and I knew this was it,” Ms. Brown said. “I was so nervous. My heart started racing.”
For Ms. Gause, it was heaven-sent, and nearly 30 years in the making. “It was a wonderful, wonderful kiss,” she said. “Well worth the wait.”
They began dating long distance, and during a visit to Atlanta in 2006, Ms. Gause introduced Ms. Brown to her father. She told him she was a friend with no elaboration.
“I wasn’t quite ready to tell him,” she said.
Two years later, Ms. Gause was ready. She and Ms. Brown, in Atlanta to attend a religious conference, arranged a family meeting at the home of Ms. Gause’s mother, who also lives in Atlanta, to tell them that they were together.
“My father didn’t take it too well,” Ms. Gause said.
Indeed, they were still in Atlanta two days later, when Mr. Gause, carrying a large King James Version of the Bible, confronted them in the lobby of the hotel where the conference was being held.
“He slammed the Bible down on a table and said to us, ‘Did you all read this book?’” Ms. Gause said. “He was furious.”
During his recent phone conversation, Mr. Gause said he had actually stormed the hotel “to confront their pastor over theological beliefs, but he never showed.”
Mr. Gause also made it clear that the passing of time has not healed any wounds.
“We all have a conscience,” he said. “It is through that conscience that we hear from our creator as to what is right and what is wrong, and if God did not want us to procreate, then why didn’t he just create billions of people with no gender at all? He must have had a reason for doing what he did.”
Mr. Gause, who owned a company in Atlanta that made signs, said: “It was a mistake that her mother even went to the wedding. Had she rejected outright that kind of behavior, and become the lovable person that my daughter was in search of, perhaps Twanna would have had a different idea about that kind of thing, and not gone elsewhere to seek love.”
When asked about Mr. Gause’s absence at the wedding reception, an elegant affair at il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, N.J., Bishop Richards said simply: “God has a way of honoring us when others won’t.”
Ms. Dodson, who spent most of the evening chatting with Ms. Brown’s mother, Mary Ellen Brown, did not mince words when talking about her ex-husband’s refusal to attend.
“He has no right to judge them,” she said. “I tried to get him to come here tonight but it was a losing battle. He asked me why I would even bother showing up, and I said to him, ‘All you need to remember is that Twanna is my daughter, and I love her, and I have her back no matter what she does, and that’s why I’ll be there.’”
Ms. Brown, who graduated from New York Theological Seminary in May, and Ms. Gause, who graduated from Essex County Community College with an associate’s degree in social science and is now studying for a bachelor’s in social work at Rutgers, are moving forward with their lives, “with or without my father’s blessings,” Ms. Gause said.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still love him,” she said. “I still call him on birthdays and holidays and special occasions, though he never picks up the phone.”
“Maybe one day he will realize that nothing has really changed with me except for the fact that I’ve found my perfect soul mate, and he’ll feel like talking to me again,” she said in a voice that almost cracked. “But no matter what my daddy says about me or what he thinks of me, he knows down deep, deep inside that I’ll always be his little girl.”
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