Online love connection leads to long-term faith, happiness

Greg Marshall and Phil Phy have been together for three years. They both work for First Tennessee Bank where Greg works in Financial Services and Phil is the Director of Marketing. They both attend Second Presbyterian Church Nashville.

In those three years, Greg and Phil have developed a camaraderie uncommon to many couples. Greg is quick-witted. Phil is articulate and confident. Often, each one knows what the other is thinking without saying a word. They respect each other's background and honor it in their daily relationship.

Greg grew up in Columbia, Tenn., and is the youngest of three boys. His family attended First United Methodist and Greg was active in the youth choir and other activities.

As a child of the '70s, sexuality was not a common subject in the Marshall household. However, according to Greg, “I never had any problem reconciling my faith and sexuality. It was a non-issue.”

While many struggle at this intersection, Greg went through it with the confidence of someone twice his age. “I knew I was born this way from an early age," he said. "It never caused any kind of internal conflict. I’ve never known any other way.”

Upon Greg’s graduation from high school, his mother passed away from a long bout with cancer. “My dad had to step up to the plate and get more involved, but it brought us closer together.”

Greg dealt with the death of his mother by staying busy. Work would prove to be a place of refuge and during any spare time he toured with a local Christian vocal group.

Phil grew up in Pennsylvania where he was one of four children.

“We were the stereotypical middle class family of the '60s,” Phil said.  To the outside world, they lived in a perfect “Leave it to Beaver” home. But life inside the Phy home, where a variety of communication problems abounded, was a bit different.

Ultimately, Phil’s parents stayed together for the sake of their children.

Though Phil and his family attended a conservative Presbyterian church, by the time Phil was in junior high, he had drifted away from the church and in college had no sense of a church home.

Upon graduation from college, Phil married and had three girls. 

“That was what you did in middle-class America," Phil said. "It was the only option. There was no concept of living life as a gay couple.”

As Phil’s marriage continued, his lack of connection with church was reflected in his family. “We never attended church under the guise we had too much going on. So our children never grew up around church or Sunday School.”

To some degree, Phil still regrets that decision.

After 17 years of marriage, Phil came out and divorced his wife and began to embrace his sexuality and his faith.

Phil and his partner at the time joined Second Presbyterian Nashville in an era when a gay couple joining a mainline denomination church was practically unheard of. Upon joining, en elderly couple at the church asked Phil why he wasn’t comfortable putting his arm around his partner.

That one question led to a bigger dialogue within the church of why gay couples weren’t comfortable as a whole. The church wanted to embrace this community and wanted to find out what they could do to extend God’s grace. 

Seeing the talents Phil possessed, the church nominating committee took another step toward being an inclusive church and asked him to become a part of their Session, which is the governing board of the church. So in 2005, Phil became the first openly gay elder at Second Presbyterian Church Nashville.

While coming out proved to be a positive experience for Phil and his church, he soon began to worry that it would have the opposite experience at work. However, his fears were quickly put to ease.

First Tennessee Bank embraced Phil and his 15 years of experience. “We now have inclusiveness policies, non-discrimination policies, and domestic partner benefits… none of which would have happened without me putting a face to this need,” he said.

In 2007, Phil and Greg met online. While many online relationships quickly fizzle out for a variety of reasons, this one continued to grow. And under the nurturing environment of Second Presbyterian Nashville, their relationship continues to grow and provide an example of how a relationship grounded in Christ can thrive.

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