November 24, 2015
Dear Grace Community,
Last March our Session began serious conversation about same-sex weddings and Grace Presbyterian Church. This conversation was in response to a change within our denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). The decision about whether or not to perform same-sex weddings on church property is now in the hands of each congregation. Since March, we’ve held listening sessions, a book study, and a program with representatives of organizations within the PCUSA with differing viewpoints on this issue. The Session formally invited letters and conversations from the congregation and was glad to hear from many of you. We spent time in prayer and conversation on this topic, both in regular meetings as well as at a called meeting.
On Monday, November 23, we gathered for our monthly meeting. Elders (Session members) are representative of the congregation but do not vote in a representative fashion. Instead they vote based on the leading of the Spirit, and last night we voted on our wedding policy.
First we unanimously approved the following statement:
We are unified in our commitment to leading Grace Presbyterian Church as we seek to be Christ’s body. While we may not be unanimous in our beliefs about same-sex marriage, we remain unified in answering the call to follow Christ. We affirm that Jesus Christ alone is Head of the Church, and trust God alone is Lord of the conscience. We give thanks for the desire of this congregation to faithfully study, discuss, and pray about this decision, and we give thanks for the opportunity to serve here.
As a Session we hold strong and varied positions on this decision. We respect one another in this. We believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are faithful in their beliefs, voting their convictions and not doing so out of judgment or homophobia. We believe that those who favor same-sex marriage are faithful in their beliefs, voting their convictions and that they too hold scripture in highest regard. As a Session, we stand behind the decision regarding same-sex marriage regardless of our individual beliefs.
There are many issues of faith on which we disagree in this congregation. One reason this particular vote is so hard is because it is in fact, a vote. We don’t often vote in ways that highlight our differences. In this time when our dissimilarities are clear it is essential that we remain true to the call that unites us, the call to be Jesus’ disciples.
Next we entertained the following motion, which was seconded and discussed.
We adapt the Grace Presbyterian wedding policy to allow same-gender couples to be married at Grace under the same guidelines that apply to opposite-gender couples. Every wedding that takes place at Grace must be approved by the Grace Session. In recent years the church wedding policy (approved by the Session) gave this authority to the pastor. With this vote, we change our wedding policy to once again require full Session approval for each wedding, same-gender and opposite-gender weddings.
We reaffirm that the pastor may choose not to perform any wedding she or he is not comfortable with, and that the Session may choose not to approve weddings they are not comfortable with, all in accordance with our wedding policy and the Directory for Worship of the PCUSA. This has always been true.
Specifically regarding same-sex weddings, any staff members (i.e. wedding coordinators, custodians, office staff, musicians) not comfortable working these weddings will not be required to do so.
The motion was approved but not unanimously. As a Session we pray that the same Spirit that moved across the waters at creation, that moved through the early churches of Galatia and Rome, and that was with the founders of Grace over 100 years ago will again move through this church and unify us. Recognizing the variety of opinions and convictions on this issue, members of the Session will be available in the Grace Chapel Sundays, November 29, December 6 and December13 from 10-10:30 am.
As we move toward Thanksgiving we give thanks for this congregation, and as we move toward Advent we pray for Christ’s coming. It is in the hope and peace we know from him that we sign this letter.
Catherine Neelly Burton, ModeratorShare