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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:

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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.