Brian Ross and Laura Robertson march to a beat that is all their own. Brian pastors two United Methodist Churches in the Nashville area. Laura Robertson is a student in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt. Both Brian and Laura are involved in a variety of ministries and are advocates for the GLBT community in many ways.
Instead of getting legally married in the U.S., they first had a Christian covenant ceremony, allowing friends and family to celebrate with them. One year later they went to Canada for their legal ceremony. And when they were married on October 6, 2007, leaving both of their last names behind, they became Brian and Laura “Rossbert.”
O&A: Tell us about your family background.
Laura: I grew up in Berkley, Calif. with my mom, dad and older sister. I remember that my elementary school was very diverse, so from an early age, I’ve always been exposed to a lot of different cultures and backgrounds. While my family was a very loving one, we never attended church. My father is an atheist and my mother is agnostic. But for some reason, I was always drawn to the church. I visited different churches as a kid and became involved in a Presbyterian church in middle school.
Eventually my family moved to Philadelphia and I graduated from Vassar College. The only job I applied for after college was with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington DC...and I got it!
I started working for them in 2004 as a legal assistant. This job changed my life because every day I heard stories of how people were discriminated against, how gay teens were beat up and bullied at school, how people lost their housing because of their sexuality, and at the time, there were no laws to protect them.
Brian: I grew up in Granby, Colorado with my dad, mom and younger brother. Like Laura’s family, we also did not attend church. I spent most of my time skiing competitively. Eventually, I went to Adams State College and was a history major. At that point, I started working in politics and during my last semester at Adams, I worked on a state campaign for John Salzar. He ended up running for Congress, so I went to Washington DC with him when he won in 2004.
In the midst of all this campaign work, I heard a call to seminary.
O&A: Wait a minute…how does someone who hasn’t grown up in church hear a call to seminary?
Brian: While I was involved in politics, I also got involved in a crowd of church-goers. It was a non-denominational kind of church. When I moved to DC, I found Capitol Hill United Methodist. But I felt a disconnect between my professional life and my faith life. So my pastor and I had a conversation and she in turn asked me if I had ever considered the ministry. I spent the next six months with that question in my mind.
Even in the midst of my political work, I felt the need to work with social justice, to help people, which is what ministry is all about. Eventually I attended Wesley Theological Seminary in DC and graduated in 2009.
O&A: How did you two meet?
Laura: I joined Capitol Hill United Methodist Church a year after Brian did. Up until then, I found it difficult to find a church that understood what I felt was a call on my life. Within the church, I need there to be an overwhelming sense of hospitality, love and acceptance.
The first time I visited, the pastor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli gave this beautiful welcome: No matter where you come from or where you go, no matter what you believe or doubt, no matter what you’re feeling or not feeling today, and no matter who you love, you are welcome to bring all of who you are into this space to be met by a God who knows your name and wants to have a relationship with you.
The second the pastor gave that welcome, I knew I had found my church home!
Brian and I met in the new member’s class. My first thought was “Who is that?” I was immediately drawn to him and had a big crush on him.
Brian: I thought she was cute, but…I also thought she was gay. She worked with the Human Rights Campaign; she has a short hair cut. I made assumptions I shouldn’t have made. But (grinning) I think we’ve worked it out pretty well. We quickly figured out we were meant to be together.
Laura: We started dating in October 2006, and by March 2007 I proposed. I decorated the chapel at church with pictures of our family members since they couldn’t be there. There were candles and beautiful flowers everywhere. He walked in; I got down on one knee and proposed. And he said, “Of course.”
O&A: Why did you go to Canada to get married and how did you come up with the last name you have?
Laura: We had a covenant ceremony here in the states to honor our friends and let them celebrate with us. But we just didn’t want to participate in a system that is discriminatory. Marriage in the U.S. isn’t open to all people, but it is in Canada. Plus, we knew we could get our legal rights here through domestic partnership.
Brian: It wasn’t fair for one of us to take the others name. We both realized we would be giving up something. Hyphenation wasn’t going to work either…who would want the last name “Ross-Robertson? So we started playing around with our names and come up with Rossbert. Plus there are many stories in the Bible of when God entered into covenant with someone, they often got a new name. We understood our relationship wasn’t just a covenant with each other, but one with God.
Laura: And at the end of our ceremony in the US, instead of being announced as “man and wife” we were announced as “the Rossberts.”
O&A: What are you doing to support the GLBT community?
Laura: For five years I’ve been working with the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization devoted to the full inclusion of all God’s children within the United Methodist Church, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification. Specifically, I help organize their annual conferences in the southeastern region. But I also work locally to help educate and train people on why GLBT matters are important to the church.
In 2009 I enrolled in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt because of The Carpenter Program in Gender and Sexuality. My time in Nashville has introduced me to a variety of people working for equality; from the local HRC committee to a student group at Lipscomb. It’s exciting to see the local momentum working toward justice.
Brian: Back in September 2010, Laura and I both spoke at Belmont University as well. They had a gay/straight alliance group that was denied by the administration. So we came in to lead a conversation about being in community and the importance of talking about and truly understanding GLBT concerns. When we’ve had these opportunities, we stress it is about people, not about issues.
But most of my day time is spent being the pastor of two churches: Centenary United Methodist and Bethel United Methodist. I try to create safe spaces for the members of the church to talk about a variety of topics. My churches need care-givers more than anything. I have members who have gay friends and family, so they need someone to talk to.
O&A: What is your ministry ultimately about?
Laura: Our ministry is about being in community with people, hearing people's stories, understanding where they come from and finding ways that we can continue on a path together.
Brian: We are lucky to encounter a beautiful diversity of people who were all created "good" in God's image. With God and with each other, we can enjoy relationships and work to make this world a better place.