Church leaves PCUSA over gay ordinations

Fremont Presbyterian pastor says his Sacramento church ‘didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us’

Anderson

AMEN | The Rev. Scott Anderson gives the benediction at the end of his ordination in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 8. Anderson is the first openly gay person to be ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination. Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif., voted Oct. 16 to leave the PCUSA over the denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay ministers. (Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal/Associated Press)

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento church has voted to split from Presbyterian Church USA over the national denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay clergy.

After months of discussion, members of Fremont Presbyterian Church voted 427 to 164 on Sunday, Oct. 16, to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Let me make it clear that Fremont didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us,” said the Rev. Donald Baird, senior pastor.

About 800 congregants attended church Sunday for a meeting about the pros and cons of what is technically known as seeking “dismissal” from the mainline Presbyterian fold. Supporters of the separation argued that their denomination had drifted away from biblical teachings with its decision to allow gay ministers.

Scott Anderson became the denomination’s first openly gay minister when he was reordained last week in Wisconsin. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Sacramento for seven years before he came out to his congregation and resigned in 1990.

“This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church,” Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who favored leaving the denomination, told the Sacramento Bee.

Cindy Harris, who is preparing to become a minister herself, was on the side of those who expressed reservations about joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“I think God can and will call whoever he wants to call, regardless of sex or orientation,” she said, wiping away tears after the vote.

Fremont, with weekly attendance of about 1,400, is the seventh Sacramento-area church to leave the mainline Presbyterian Church over doctrinal issues in the past few years, according to the Bee.

Regional church leaders plan to meet with Fremont’s staff to discuss what will become of the church’s property and other assets.

In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Anderson predicted that accepting gay clergy would make the Presbyterian church stronger in the long run.

“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Church finds minister guilty for marrying gays

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A retired Presbyterian minister was found guilty of misconduct Friday, Aug. 27 by a church court for officiating the weddings of 16 gay couples when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

A regional commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled 4-2 that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience” by performing the weddings in 2008 before Proposition 8 banned the unions in the state.

The church’s highest court has held that Presbyterian ministers may bless same-sex unions as long as they do “not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage.”

By willfully challenging that holding, Spahr broke her ordination vows, the commission said in its majority opinion.

At the same time, however, the tribunal devoted most of its 21/2-page ruling to praising the 68-year-old pastor, a lesbian who founded a church group in the early 1990s for gay Presbyterians.

Spahr was acknowledged “for her prophetic ministry” and “faithful compassion. The commissioners called on the broader church to use her example “to re-examine our own fear and ignorance.”

The six-member commission representing 54 Northern California churches censured Spahr with a rebuke as punishment. Spahr said she was disappointed by the verdict and would appeal to a midlevel church court.

It was the second time the regional Presbytery of the Redwoods convened a court to consider charges against Spahr for sanctioning same-sex relationships.

In 2006, a church court composed of different members ruled that she had acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005.

—  John Wright