The Presbyterian Church USA will quietly usher in gay ordination when an amendment on Sunday formally enters the Book of Order of the church’s Constitution.
The change comes after 33 years of contentious discussion within the Presbyterian Church and as the gay-rights movement gains momentum in other Protestant Churches.
“This is a very historic day,” said Rev. Daniel L. Martian, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Livingston.
The new policy makes it easier for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to ordain gays and lesbians as clergy if they chose by dropping a policy requiring unmarried clergy to remain celibate. “Now that the prohibition is over with, we can come to the bar and have a drink without getting arrested,” Martian said.
The change was approved by the Presbyterian national assembly and received approval by a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies.
“It’s a big deal,” said Warren McNeill, the stated clerk of the Newark Presbytery. “While the time for it has come, it is a very large change, one that could have serious ramifications as to the membership of the Presbyterian Church USA.”
About 100 of the 11,000 Presbyterian U.S.A churches have already left the denomination over the issue, according to published reports. Some other conservative congregations have decided to stay in the church for now.
The much smaller Presbyterian Church in America, a separate denomination, bars ordination for women and openly gay clergy candidates.
“What I’m getting from my church is that this is no big deal,” said Martian, who has served in Livingston for the past six years.
“The Presbyterian Church is best when we live in unity amongst diversity,” Martian wrote to the 134 members of his parish. “Those called to office of Minister of Word and Sacrament, Elder, or Deacon will now be recognized for their gifts of ministry and sense of call, and not their sexual preference. This will truly give the church equally to all ordain people.”
The Presbyterian Church joins a growing alliance of Protestant Churches that allow for gay clergy: United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran, and Episcopal Church. United Methodist Church is still debating the issue.
The Newark Presbytery, which serves Essex County and parts of Hudson and Bergen, voted 31 to 19 in March in favor of the amendment, which is known as 10A, according to McNeill.
“Pastors see it as a social justice issue,” Martian said.
Churches do not expect the change to affect their ministry. “I don’t see where the change will increase the number of people being ordained,” McNeill said. "We should have been looking at the whole person from the beginning and their call to ministry.”
The gay ordination is not the only change. On Sunday, a new form of government and new terminology also becomes effective. Among the changes: The minister will be now known as a teaching elder.
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