Rev. Beth Aime (left) and Rev. Ruth Pogson celebrate their wedding on April 23, 2008.
The Rev. Ruth Pogson didn’t live to see it, but her spouse thinks she would have been pleased that their “seven years in exile” from the church is now over.
Pogson’s spouse is Rev. Beth Aime, also a priest. Last fall, the new rector of Aime’s church in Sidney, B.C., asked if she would like to take part in a service. It felt like an invitation back into the church, she says.
For Pogson and Aime, life changed drastically in 2002, when they moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island. They thought the climate would be better for Aime’s health. Both were in their 70s. Once settled, they visited the then bishop of the diocese of British Columbia, Barry Jenks, and told him they were a same-gender couple, something they themselves had only recognized in recent years.
Initially, the bishop thought they could continue to function as clergy. Shortly after that conversation, however, Pogson and Aime received a call from his office to let them know this was not the case. They went back to see the bishop.
“I said, ‘Surely to goodness,
I can preach,’ ” Aime recalls. But the answer was no. It was a shock to both women, who had spent their entire careers working for the church.
At the time, Aime says she wrote in her journal, “I have given everything to the church for as long as I can remember, and now the church is telling me I am not good enough.” That hurt, she says.
Pogson died last December. But, seven years after they were first shut out of their work as clergy, Aime received a letter from Bishop James Cowan of the diocese of British Columbia offering his sympathies on the death of her partner. Bishop Cowan also told Aime that he had recently appointed a female priest with a same-gender partner as the incumbent of a parish in the diocese. The episcopal policy that prevented this in the past had changed, he wrote.
Then, the new rector of Holy Trinity church (where Aime and Pogson have been members) asked Aime if she would like to take part in the liturgy. At first, she said no. Upon further reflection, however, she decided to accept the invitation. “I thought…I need to say ‘yes’ and to be a part of it, and the church needs to hear it.”
Aime and Pogson’s story is one of a friendship that became a marriage. The relationship endured throughout their working years as priests in various ministries and travels across the country. They met when Aime was a student at St. John’s College in Winnipeg and Pogson came there to be the director of field education.
Aside from her position at St. John’s College, Pogson, who had three master’s degrees, worked as a Christian educator at a large church in Toronto, was ordained as deacon and priest in the diocese of Rupert’s Land, served as an associate priest at St. Aidan’s in Winnipeg, and then as the incumbent in the parish of Arthur in the diocese of Niagara. She retired early to focus on offering spiritual direction to many individuals, renovating her home to accommodate visitors and retreats.
Aime’s first parish as a priest was at Easterville in northern Manitoba on Cedar Lake, where the community had had no regular priest for 30 years. She served there for three years, but while going through a divorce, she decided to return to school to get her B.A. at the University of Waterloo and then her master’s at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. She spent three years in the parish of Arthur in the diocese of Niagara, establishing a Christian counseling service. Then she accepted an offer from the diocese of Calgary to serve as a parish priest in Fort McLeod and then in a predominately native parish at Cardston, Alta. She had returned to the diocese of Brandon and was working in the parish of Grand Rapids when a fall forced her to give up parish ministry.
When their relationship began to be more than a friendship, Aime and Pogson wavered between acknowledging it and denying it for a long time, recalls Aime. But when she was seriously injured in the accident, Aime knew she wanted to be with Pogson. She moved to Kincardine, Ont. and Pogson had an addition built on to her house to make an apartment for her. By June 1, 1997, the two had decided they wanted to formally mark their relationship and held a commitment service, just between the two of them.
Pogson hadn’t recognized her sexual orientation until she was in her 70s, recalls Aime. For Aime, it was also a family matter. She had agonized about how and when to disclose her sexual orientation to her four adult daughters. She started with her youngest daughter, Margie.
During a visit with Margie, Pogson, Aime and Margie went into a bookstore. Margie asked if they had any books for parents coming out to their children. “‘How old are the children?’ asked the clerk. Margie said, ‘Between 45 and 50,’ and everybody started to laugh, Aime recalls.
Aime said they did not speak openly about their relationship until they moved to British Columbia in 2002. They joined the congregation of Holy Trinity in Sidney, B.C. where they lived, but it was hard to accept the decision that they could not be a part of the services there. Still, Aime says, they felt there was something they could do within the congregation. “I thought, then the ministry for us is to try to do some teaching, whether that just means getting to know people,” so they made friends and Aime taught a workshop on diverse voices.
More challenges arose when Pogson became ill with heart failure. They moved into an assisted living facility, to make it easier for Aime to look after her.
They also decided to get married. “Ruth wanted to get married, and I needed to honour that. She’d never been married, so we did,” says Aime. Their wedding, performed by a Unitarian minister on April 23, 2008, was simple but a “very nice gathering,” with about 20 people attending she says. Later, when Pogson needed more care, she moved to St. Jude’s Anglican nursing home in New Westminster, a diocese where same-gender blessings are allowed. They had a ceremony on Aug. 1, attended by eight clergy members.
Pogson died in December 2008 when she was 84. Aime says that following the policy change, “People who have known Ruth over the years…will be saying [about the policy change] ‘Go Ruth go,’ complimenting her,” says Aime, “because she always was on the cutting edge of the church, pushing for things, pushing for liturgies. That was a big part of her life.”
Aime, who is now 80, is writing a memoir and participating in a study at the University of Victoria on helping older gay women disclose their sexual orientation.