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For Minority Groups in Presbyterian Church, Rights Vary by Region

A gay elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) says the recent rule change that removes any doubt over the legitimacy of her position makes the church more accepting, though intolerance still exists in many areas.

Beth Van Sickle was ordained in her Ohio congregation in the 1980s and faced challenges to her post. But yesterday , the church’s constitution was changed to allow unmarried, noncelibate clergy. Van Sickle says it makes the church appear more accepting to young people, who may be questioning the conflict between their religion and their sexuality.

“People will come to the church because they recognize it can be a safe place,” she says. “Certainly people will need to do some research on whether the church they’re going to attend is a safe place. Because not all Presbyterian churches are going to agree with this.”

Just as Van Sickle’s congregation did not firmly adhere to the previous rule on LGBT ordination, congregations don’t have to follow the updated rule. It’s up to each regional presbytery to decide how to handle requests for ordination. That’s how other rule changes have been treated, and Van Sickle says it’s led to gaps in how various minority groups fit into the PCUSA.

“Our church, in my opinion, still has issues around racism. There are churches in the PCUSA who still will not ordain women. We have a long way to go even within the ways that we have already voted in acceptance,” she says.

Van Sickle says some group within the church will always seek equality. She expects the approval of same-sex marriage to be the next step toward greater acceptance. The church’s General Assembly has not yet taken up the issue.

The full interview with Van Sickle:

Audio MP3
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Rule Change Allowing Gay Clergy in Presbyterian Church Takes Effect

Gay and lesbian members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) may now apply to be ordained in the church.

For LGBT Presbyterians, the path to being eligible for ordination has been long and uncertain. Last year, the church’s general assembly lifted a restriction that clergy be either married or celibate. The new rule requires non-celibate clergy to be in “committed relationships.” After debate, the change was ratified by a majority of PCUSA’s regional governing bodies—called presbyteries—in May. It became official today. But not all presbyteries approved of the change. Several dozen actively opposed it and none are required to accept requests for ordination from LGBT members.

But many of those members will apply for ordination in the accepting regions. The group More Light Presbyterians held celebrations and prayers for those members today.

The PCUSA does not currently allow same-sex marriage. A church official previously told WFPL that while many see a change in that rule as inevitable, the general assembly isn’t likely to consider it for some time.

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Presbyterian Official Doesn’t Consider Rule Change a Step Toward Same-Sex Marriage

This summer, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will lift its ban on gay clergy, but a church leader says the move is not a step toward recognizing same-sex marriage.

The church’s council approved the change last year, but it took until yesterday for a majority of the regional governing bodies, called presbyteries, to approve the change. Cynthia Bolbach is a church elder and the moderator of the general assembly. She says when the national council discussed changing the ordination rules, it also considered same-sex marriage.

“It was decided that we simply weren’t at the point where we wanted to consider whether we wanted to approve same-sex marriage. It’s been asked that the church study the issue, but I think that’s a different issue than the issue regarding ordination standards,” she says.

Bolbach says the PCUSA is a progressive institution, since rule changes are regularly considered, but not all presbyteries are the same.

“I think that would be a long process. It’s been a long process for women to become fully accepted within the church. I think even now, there are places where, if you’re a woman pastor, you know you shouldn’t even try to go,” she says.

Not all presbyteries are required to consider gay and lesbian candidates for ordination, but Bolbach says the number that do not will likely diminish as social attitudes change.

“You know, we recognize we are still divided in the church about the ordination of gays and lesbians. A decision has been made, but we are not of one mind,” she says.

You can listen to the full interview here.

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Presbyterian Church Drops Ban on Gay Clergy

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will soon allow the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy members.

A majority of the denomination’s regional governing bodies–which are called presbyteries–have agreed to lift the requirement that unmarried clergy remain celibate, which was previously part of the church’s constitution.

The change was approved by the church’s national assembly last year, but such decisions must be ratified by a majority of the 173 presbyteries. The deciding vote came from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area in Minnesota Tuesday night.

The church’s leadership released a statement on the change, saying “some members will rejoice while others will weep.” More than 60 presbyteries oppose the change, including the western Kentucky body (which does not include Louisville). Some presbyteries may continue to reject gay clergy.

In the same statement, church officials offered explanations for why most congregations now approve of the change. They include increased tolerance for same-sex relationships, a desire among parishioners to move on from the years-old debate and the fact that some conservative congregations have left the church.

The change takes effect July 10. Other mainline Protestant churches to loosen restrictions on same-sex relationships and gay clergy include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Presbyterian Center Celebrates 20 Years, Layoffs Loom

It’s been two decades since the Presbyterian Church USA moved to Louisville. The city has served as the church’s base of operations ever since. Officials will celebrate the anniversary Wednesday with a special worship service and other events.

The church decided to relocate after the north and south branches of Presbyterianism merged in 1983. Executive Director Linda Valentine says theological differences have been ironed out over the years, but recently the church has been hampered by budget constraints.

“We’re constantly adjusting the organization to fit both resources and more importantly to fit how we serve the church,” she says. “And so through those adjustments, from time to time, there are personnel affected by that.”

Two years ago, 75 employees were laid off. Valentine says additional workers could be let go this year. The church currently employs 450 people with a payroll of approximately $20 million.