Presbyterian advocates of equality for all members of the church, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), are announcing they are ready to celebrate continuing progress at the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which takes place from July 3–10, in Minneapolis.
"We have come so far toward fully including everyone in the denomination, we have reason to celebrate, even as we work for fuller inclusion. As we move forward, we will continue to lift up our core belief that we are all created in the image of God. We know that the church is living into a future that allows Presbyterians to follow their God-led consciences as they consider each candidate, rather than requiring exclusion," said the Rev Tricia Dykers Koenig, National Organiser of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.
As the denomination gathers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many are aware that in the same hall, one year earlier, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American voted to allow ministers in partnered same-sex couples to be listed on the official roster and to serve the church. All requirements to limit participation were dropped and Lutherans are living into the new policies by receiving clergy back into the church.
Lisa Larges, head of That All May Freely Serve, said, "Faith traditions are moving toward a new understanding of God's diverse creation. The time for policies based on our love of God and call to serve has come. Churches are learning to affirm gifts for ministry rather than reject ministers because of whom they chose as a life partner."
The PCUSA currently allows gay and lesbian people to serve in official capacities if they maintain "chastity." An amendment to lift the requirement for "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness" was passed at the 2008 General Assembly, but after the long process of voting by regionally based presbyteries, the constitutional amendment did not gain the required number of presbytery votes.
Of note was that presbyteries in relatively conservative areas like Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, southern Illinois, rural Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Montana, voted to support equal acceptance of all those who feel called to serve the church, including those in same-sex committed relationships.
"There is a growing consensus among Presbyterians that we have spent enough time trying to keep people out of church leadership and it is time to celebrate our progress and our common heart for service," said Mieke Vandersall, head of Presbyterian Welcome.
The General Assembly will consider a wide array of business items requiring a vote, including provision of benefits to same-gender spouses and domestic partners of employees in church positions and affirmation of the right of clergy to provide pastoral care to their members by performing legal weddings and services, in the growing number of states allowing same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships with all the rights of marriage.
It will also look at removal of all barriers to ordination for lesbian and gay Presbyterians.
"Only God knows what decisions will be made at this General Assembly," said Michael Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians, "but we do know that the Presbyterian Church (USA) understands now that it baptises and nurtures the faith of its own gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender daughters and sons. Presbyterians, from all walks of life, are expressing their faith and believing out loud that we are all children of God.