Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A significant night at the Presbytery

Last night I drove to Peace Presbyterian Church in St. Louis Park for the May meeting of the Twin Cities Area Presbytery. I arrived early as the Property Task Force had some important business through which to work. The Property Task Force is planning to have the Presbytery vote on a piece of property for Chain of Lakes Church at the July meeting. After that I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the presentation by Cindy Bolbach, Moderator of the General Assembly.

After her presentation I handed out newsletters for Chain of Lakes Church. While doing that I had the joy of meeting members of the Pastor Nominating Committee of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview and Rev. John H.G. Curtiss, the pastor whose call to serve the church in Plainview was approved last night. I rejoiced with them over their excitement that John will be their new pastor. I have prayed almost daily since I left the congregation that God will call the right pastor to serve that church. It appears that these prayers have been wonderfully answered.

But clearly the event of the night was the Presbytery’s vote on Amendment 10-A. (More information about 10-A can be found under the Bills & Overtures link at:

Put most simply the passage of 10-A means that a person’s sexual orientation will not exclude that person from ordination or installation as a pastor or elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Many events came together to make last night’s meeting monumental. The resulting yes vote on 10-A was the 87th affirmative vote by the Presbyteries which was the final vote needed for passage. (No one could have predicted in advance that Twin Cities Presbytery would issue the final vote.) The Moderator’s appearance heightened the significance of the night. Close to three hundred people packed into the sanctuary of Peace Church, a number that the building couldn’t adequately handle. Local television stations had cameras at the meeting. I know from following the Twitter feed that people all over the country were following the vote. The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press had front page coverage of the meeting in today’s editions.
Strib article is here:

Pioneer Press article is here:

The New York Times wrote an article about the vote at:

Believe me—most meetings of the Twin Cities Area Presbytery don’t gather this much attention.

The debate over the ordination of gays and lesbians in the PC(USA) has gone on for too long. It has divided our precious denomination into camps and sometimes feels like war. Churches and individuals on both sides of the issue have left the PC(USA). I have always been in favor of the ordination of gays and lesbians, but also want to work together with people who have a different view on the issue. I’m respectful of the pain that this issue has caused people on both sides.

My dream is to build a congregation where people can find power and strength in what unifies their understanding of the gospel. I want to build a church that interweaves the strengths of the conservative and liberal traditions. I anticipate and hope that people at Chain of Lakes Church will have different views on the ordination of gays and lesbians. Despite our different views we will live into our Core Value of healthy disagreement and ultimately find ways to share the complete gospel and thus impact the community.

But the meeting last night was to take a vote. The liberal side was well organized and made a compelling case for passage of 10-A. I especially appreciated David Colby’s argument that the current language of the Book of Order puts the person and teachings of Jesus as subordinate to the confessions. Andy Lindahl started off the conservative side with a heartfelt case about God’s design for sexuality. Unfortunately the speakers after him veered away from respect and shared their opinions out of anger. I think a compelling case can be made against the ordination of gays and lesbians, but that case wasn’t made last night.

After the presentations it was time to vote. We voted in secret ballot. The final tally was 205 yes, 56 no, and three abstentions.

I know that on this day the reaction to this vote by the world-wide Presbyterian community will be swift and even voluminous. After I finish this blog I’m choosing to continue the work that God has called me to build a strong Presbyterian congregation in the north Metro. After the celebrations and denunciations about what happened last night are over, I ask all Presbyterians to re-commit themselves to starting and developing strong Presbyterian congregations. Without strong congregations it really doesn’t matter who is eligible to be ordained. I’m happy about the vote last night, but my ultimate joy will be determined by the witness that Presbyterians make to Jesus Christ in our local churches.


mcp said...

Nicely put! Myra Carroll-Pezzella

the dosh said...

Thank you, Paul for your report on the events of the PTCA meeting, and your response to the vote on 10-A. I felt like it was the old days when I was an elder commissioner to PTCA, and when we first met each other. I was in high school, and just getting to know about LGBTQ issues, but was proud to be part of a presbytery that wanted to stand up in favor for the ordination of LGBTQ persons. In college, seminary and daily life I have continued to work against discriminatory practices based on race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, etc. So, it is with joy and relief that I get to see the end of this particular chapter of discrimination in our church. We still have much work to do. As humans we continue to say hurtful and hateful things about people who are different than us, partly because we fear the unknown, partly because we want to prevent others from getting too close to us because we want to remain unknown. We judge the perceived faults of others before they can judge ours.

So, with this in mind, I appreciate your comments on what comes next. My dad sent me the remarks he made at the presbytery meeting in favor of 10-A, and it very much reflects what I feel, too. There are still many strong feelings around this issue that will not be resolved by this vote. We also cannot force people to stay who do not want to remain in community or fellowship with the rest of us. However, I hope that people will not simply run away because they are not getting their way. Over the last 15 years there have been some LGBTQ individuals and advocates for LGBTQ ordination who have left the PC(USA) in order to pursue the call to ordination they have felt and to be in communities that agreed with their positions. However, many of us who have likewise supported LGBTQ ordination have stayed to continue working on these issues. I know that for myself, I have continued this work prayerfully, hoping for this day, even as I have lived and worked and taught among those who feared this day. I remained because one of the reasons I am Presbyterian is because we recognize and confess the unique lives and views of individuals within the Body of Christ. We recognize, as a Reformed church, that humans are finite and that we make mistakes, that we can be wrong, as individuals and within groups. We are reformed, always reforming, because we hope to do better in, with and through Christ, which means within the community that is the Body of Christ on Earth. Not only can we not truly have life apart from the Body, what we believe can only become life-giving to us if it is tested by experience and in encountering beliefs that counter our own. This testing shapes and refines the faith that we draw on to make decisions that cause us to be beacons of the light and life that God gives us.

My faith is tested and refined by those around me, both those I agree with and those I do not. Those engagements are not always easy or fun, and I couldn't continue without prayer and faith that God is at work even in the most difficult situations. But I also have great examples in my parents, who are thoughtful in word and deed and always willing to learn new things about the world and to discuss difficult issues. They taught my brothers and I to be open-minded and to listen to others. Though I am glad and proud that my dad was the first speaker on the pro side of the 10-A debate in the PTCA meeting on Tuesday because I support the 10-A language, I am also glad and proud because he has always been an advocate for prayerful and faithful discernment with God. He does not dismiss difficult issues without letting different views be heard. Though I am biased, I would like to see more of this sort of thoughtful and prayerful listening to one another in our church. And whatever we do, letting each other go, leaving, or staying and living together, I hope that we can treat each other with grace, love and dignity.

Thank you again for your post, Paul. I'm excited to see what's in store for Chain of Lakes.