Local Presbyterians Don't See a Split; at Issue Is a Proposal to Allow Lesbians and Gays to Be Ordained

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Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Neither progressives nor traditionalists in the Presbyterian Church USA are predicting a schism if a proposal allowing gays and lesbians to be ordained is ratified.

On the First Coast, Presbyterian pastors on both sides of the issue say a change in the wording of ordination standards proposed by delegates at last week's General Assembly doesn't automatically mean homosexuals can become ministers in the 2 million-member denomination.

Participants gathered in Minneapolis voted 373-323, with four abstentions, to remove the requirement that deacons, elders and ministers live in chastity if single or fidelity in heterosexual marriage.

That requirement would be replaced with much broader standards, ranging from examining candidates' calling to ministry, the adequacy of their preparation and suitability to the office being sought.

But for the proposal to go into effect it must be approved by more than half of the denomination's 173 districts, called presbyteries, within the next year, said the Rev. Paul Hooker, executive presbyter and stated clerk of the Presbytery of St. Augustine.

Hooker said he's unaware of any of the 65 congregations in his district covering 19 Northeast Florida counties that are considering leaving the denomination over the issue.

The Rev. Kevin Pound, senior pastor at Mandarin Presbyterian Church, said there's no reason to leave.

Pound attended the assembly and voted against the change, because he believes the church needs to have clear-cut values on sexuality in a culture that has none.

Gays and lesbians are welcome in Presbyterian congregations, Pound said, "but we're talking about the standards for men and women who are going to be ordained to be officers in the church."

Those standards not only cover homosexuals, he said, but also the much higher number of heterosexuals who are currently required to be celibate if they are single and wish to be ordained. …