For most of his life, the Rev. Dr. Norman Kansfield seemed to personify the Reformed Church in America.

To an extraordinary extent, he had grown up in the world of his church’s 17th-century Dutch founders. His hometown, South Holland, Ill., consisted largely of descendants of Dutch immigrants who still spoke the language and farmed onion seedlings. Social distinctions did not rest on who kept the Sabbath — pretty much everybody did that — so much as on who peeled their potatoes on Saturdays, in order to more fully avoid labor on Sundays. (His family would not so much as mow the lawn.)

Dr. Kansfield grew up to be a professor of theology, the denomination’s most esteemed rank, and president of the school that trains its ministers, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, which is the oldest seminary in the United States. On special occasions, he gave sermons in Dutch.

So when his daughter, Ann Kansfield, was considering coming out of the closet to him, she was nervous. After she did, Dr. Kansfield went beyond responding with warm acceptance. Years later, in June 2004, he insisted that he officiate at her wedding, held in Massachusetts weeks after the state legalized same-sex marriage.

“Clad in his church vestments, he read with emotion from the Book of Isaiah about a God who extends his kingdom of love beyond Israel to cover foreigners and eunuchs,” The Star-Ledger of Newark reported.

There had been no other known instance of a Reformed minister officiating at a same-sex wedding. Earlier the same year, the General Synod, the church’s annual meeting, had voted to affirm the definition of marriage “as the union of one man and one woman.”


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