Madam

That’s what I called her last Tuesday evening. Actually I called her “madam moderator”, for she is now the new vice-moderator of the San Francisco presbytery, the body of faithful folks of 78 churches connected in the bay area for common mission. She’s also known as our very own Theresa Cho. Just installed, she will serve this year as vice, next year as moderator and the 3rd year as chair of the presbytery council or leadership team of presbytery. I tell you all this because we are proud of Theresa. She finds herself in this position not because she seeks power, for this is not a position of power, not because of connections, although she has many, but she serves because she said “yes”, desires to be available as a servant and has been called by others to express her leadership skills. We can be proud of her because of her humility and willingness. It will be for her a great deal of extra work, along with her strong ministry at St. John’s, and so we will keep her in our prayers. She did a great job by the way, leading and praying. Now we get to share all that we cherish about Theresa with the entire bay area and our denomination.

Also, on Tuesday night, as a presbytery we voted on overture 10A, an overture that was approved at our 2010 General Assembly. The process here is that a majority of our 173 presbyteries in our national church must also vote in favor of this overture in order for it to be ratified and therefore officially part of our Book of order, our church’s constitution. The old language from 1996, which intended to prohibit lesbians and gays from being ordained as lay leaders and ministers was, “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

If at least 87 presbyteries approve, the new language will become, “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.” the Presbytery of San Francisco voted to affirm the passage of this amendment. After 50 minutes of thoughtful and gracious debate, the vote was 198 in favor, 143 against, so this overture passed in our presbytery.

The proposed amendment affirms the need for ethical standards shaping the whole of life of the church. It maintains that reasonable regulation applied fairly by governing bodies of the church strengthens the Body of Christ. It also recognizes the sacred responsibility for discernment of the readiness for ordination that lies with the local governing bodies. This amendment allows examining bodies to treat every candidate as a unique child of God, whose sense of call and fitness for ministry must be considered in a case-by-case manner. By deleting the current language and offering replacement language, a narrow focus on sexual sins is removed. The PC(USA) has no consensus in the interpretation of Scripture on many issues including questions of sexuality and sexual practice. When convictions about important issues are so different, and so firmly-held, our long-standing Presbyterian commitment to freedom of conscience and mutual forbearance is vital to maintaining our fellowship: “That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”(Book of Order, G-1.0305)

While Theresa and I, as well as our leadership support this change, there may be some at St. John’s who do not. It is important that we honor our diversity, love those who may disagree with us, acknowledge that God alone is lord of the conscience and that we all seek to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

We continue to pray for all whom in other presbyteries will be voting in the next few weeks. If you go to the Covenant Network  you can track the voting on 10A. It looks like the decision will be made very soon. Keep watching and praying, no matter what happens we’ll get to a new place.

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