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Patty Willis and Mary Lou Prince fell madly, deeply for each other in the City of Love back when Mormonism still viewed their mutual attraction as a sinful choice.
The year was 1978 and the two Brigham Young University graduates met at a Paris LDS congregation. They spent many clandestine nights, walking along the Seine or sequestered in an apartment, cuddling and talking nonstop about music and art, French cuisine and poetry, language and literature.
Both were multigenerational members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and neither wanted to live a secret life within a belief system that, at the time, saw their feelings as illegitimate, immoral, even perverse.
So the lovers reluctantly split up, only to be reunited after one failed marriage (for Willis) and shifting views on religion (for both). They lived abroad for decades, teaching, writing, seeking, traveling and tasting various faith traditions.
About two years ago, the couple now officially married returned to the Beehive State, where Willis was hired as pastor at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (SVUU) church and Prince became the music director for the Cottonwood Heights congregation.
The two have written hymns, some of which will be performed Friday evening by a joint SVUU, First Unitarian and Kaysville LDS ward choir at the Assembly Hall on downtown Salt Lake City's Temple Square. The couple see such interfaith harmony as part of their mission.
"I spent my first 30 years in Mormonism and my second 30 years outside of it," Prince says. "Now I want to build bridges. More than half of our singers used to be Mormon. It's our tribe."
Prince's brother, Greg Prince, wonders if his sister had come out as lesbian in today's world, whether she would have had to choose between her piety and her partner.
In the past decade, the LDS Church has taken a "big leap," Greg Prince says in a phone interview from his Maryland home, when it acknowledged that homosexuality is "not a choice. It is biology."
Since then, the Utah-based faith seems to be "backing away from holding disciplinary hearings for gays," he says. "And, if you are gay and celibate, you now can serve a full-time proselytizing mission."
Mormonism's current stance holds that same-sex attraction "is not a sin, but acting on it is."
Greg Prince, who serves on the board of Affirmation, a support group for gay Latter-day Saints, says he could not have imagined such acceptance back in the 1970s and '80s.
Neither, frankly, could Patty Willis or Mary Lou Prince.
A family adventure • Having the name "Patty" was no accident. Willis' great-great-great grandmother was Patty Bartlett Sessions, a pioneering Mormon midwife. Willis' great-grandmother, Patty, named after her famous ancestor, "was huge in my life," the minister says.
Willis' family hailed from the Bighorn Basin of north-central Wyoming, but her LDS parents (a field geologist dad and a caregiving mom) had wanderlust so they dragged their five children all over the globe Libya, Bahrain, Venezuela and points in between.
Her parents embodied the hospitality principles that Willis now associates with Unitarian Universalism. As a child, though, she saw it all through a Mormon prism. Church and family became synonymous.
It was only natural for her to go to LDS Church-owned BYU for college and to study languages, in this case, French and Spanish.
After graduation, she got the chance to teach beginning French in the school's study-abroad program in Paris, where she ran smack into a conflict between her faith and her desires.
Willis was the one who ended the relationship with Prince.
"Some people knew how to do it, but I could not," the soft-spoken pastor says now. "If I had tried to live a double life, I could not have survived."
She returned to the U.S. and pursued a graduate degree in medieval French at the University of Illinois. She eventually met and married a nice Mormon man, who was working on a doctorate in philosophy at UCLA.
Soon, though, Willis began to believe that the marriage was killing her. She had a hard time speaking. She couldn't write. She didn't recognize herself in the mirror. One day, she drove into the parking lot of their married-student housing and couldn't get out of the car. An hour passed. Then another. And another.
Finally, Willis drove away, she says, "and left that life."
That's when she reconnected to the woman who had started it all and began her rebirth.
A pleasant cocoon • Mary Lou Prince grew up in the shadow of the Los Angeles LDS Temple, seeing the Angel Moroni statue atop the holy "House of the Lord" from her living room.
To Prince, Mormonism provided an all-encompassing community and a happy one at that. Friends, parties, stories, services, songs and beliefs all revolved around it.
After high school, she, too, headed to BYU, and, on her first day there, decided to major in music composition. In fact, music took Prince to Paris in 1977 to study with the famed French composer Nadia Boulanger.
Prince, a tomboy as a child, had already had a couple of relationships with women in college, but she also dated men.
Then there was Willis. When the two broke up, they didn't meet again for a couple of years until they reconnected in L.A. and moved in together.
They still tried to attend Mormon services, but men at church considered them potential mates and it grew awkward. Plus, there was continued theological dissonance between their sexual feelings and LDS teachings.
On top of that, some in their Mormon families had reacted with horror, disappointment and sadness at the news of their love. The couple jetted to Japan for a year to get a new start. They wound up staying away for more than 24 years until the alienation on both sides had eased.
A life entwined • Much like Willis' movable childhood, the two travelers felt their vision enlarge as they lived and worked abroad, while exploring the globe's holy places.
They learned Japanese, taught English and labored as translators. They painted, fashioned ceramic art and produced plays for mental hospitals. They lived off the land in a village on that nation's western coast, which Willis later wrote a book about it.
They prayed with Buddhists, dined with Hindus, debated with Muslims, sang with Sikhs and worshipped with various types of Christians and Jews across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
One day, on the road to Damascus where the Apostle Paul had a blinding vision of Jesus Willis and Prince met an American, who introduced them to Unitarian Universalism.
They never forgot that serendipitous encounter.
When the women moved to Tucson in 2007 and looked for a church, they sought out a nearby UU congregation.
Before long, Willis felt called to the ministry. She enrolled in a three-year program at a Quaker divinity school in Indiana. Upon her return to Arizona in 2011, the two began their musical collaboration, penning hymns for the congregation, where Prince had become composer-in-residence as well as music director.
The music poured out of them as never before, with words of praise and hope flying onto the page.
"Every choice I've made brought me to this holy mountain," proclaims one piece. "If I step ahead, will I fall to Earth? Or will angels' arms bear me up?"
The two finally felt they had found a spiritual home.
Then came a call from Utah.
A congregation renewed • South Valley Unitarian Universalist had gone through several pastors, lay ministers and an interim leader when the congregation's leaders heard about Willis in the fall of 2012.
"We had been kind of stagnant for a while, We were not growing at all. In fact, we were losing ground," explains Mac Lund, who was the board president when Willis was offered the job. "We needed to get excitement back into coming on Sunday, someone who would make our services enjoyable again."
Willis was exactly what the church leaders were looking for, he says energetic, open, kind, positive, bright, upbeat, and a world traveler and master storyteller, to boot.
"She has brought a breath of new life into our congregation," Lund says. "We wanted to get new members through the doors and she's accomplished that."
SVUU's 200-strong congregation includes atheists, humanists, agnostics, former Mormons, ex-Christians and believers. It has a sizable contingent of LGBT members.
Willis and Prince have reached out to all of the diverse groups but have a special connection to those from an LDS background.
They know how it feels to be spiritually adrift and how to make peace with the past.
Some years ago, Prince reconciled with her family, who embraced Willis with gusto. And many of Willis' extended kin came for her ordination in October 2012. As part of the ceremony, her relatives placed their hands on her, forming a chain that linked the whole congregation.
In the Unitarian tradition, Willis explains, the people ordain their leader.
Current SVUU board co-President Lory Schantz understands such gestures.
"I am not the kind of person who throws praise around lightly," Schantz says, "but she brings out the best in all of us."
Lund and Schantz hope the couple's journeying is over that they will continue to make music together in the Mormon heartland for a long, long while.
And that they'll always have Paris and each other.
What • A free cantata by Mary Lou Prince and Patty Willis about the beauty of the Earth.
When • Friday, Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Where • LDS Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Who • Performing will be an interfaith choir from the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Soceity, the First Unitarian Church and a Kaysville Mormon ward.