And he did so asking Presbyterians to remember those who still cross the desert in the night, “and to be Christ’s presence where it is most needed.”
Ufford-Chase was elected on the second ballot with 275 votes (55 percent), with McKechnie coming in second with 186 votes and Ptomey winning 40 votes. Things were closer on the first ballot, with Ufford-Chase grabbing 226 votes, just under half; McKechnie 166 votes, and Ptomey 101.
Ufford-Chase in a few respects is a traditional moderatorial candidate: a lifelong Presbyterian and a preacher’s son. His pastor at Southside church, Tucson, John Fife, is a former PC(USA) moderator.
Ufford-Chase dropped out of seminary himself after one semester, saying he knew after just a few weeks that he was not called to be a minister. His wife, Kitty, is a Quaker. While he’s liberal in some respects — he favors the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians — Ufford-Chase was nominated by Patricia Mason of Pittsburgh Presbytery, an African-American pastor who considers herself an evangelical conservative and who he approached because he was impressed by the work she’d done to bring her congregation back from the brink of extinction. And he speaks in very personal terms about what Jesus means to him.
Ufford-Chase said he felt God clearly while hiking the Appalachian Trail with friends in high school, in conversations where they talked for hours about “what am I willing to do, what am I willing to give to Jesus because of who God is in my life.”
And as young adult he heard God in the voice of a peasant farmer from Nicaragua, a man who spoke only Spanish and in whose home Ufford-Chase was a guest for a week, and who told him “you have misunderstood the will of God” when Ufford-Chase said he wanted to learn Spanish and come back and help. The man told him to go home to the United States, “that change has to come in your country.”
Ufford-Chase said, “If you put those two together, what you end up with is a life of service.”
His election will be the first time a moderator has served a two-year term — the next Assembly is not scheduled to meet until 2006 — and the first time an elder has been elected since Freda Gardner in 1999. But Ufford-Chase said there’s so much to do that “two years is not anywhere near long enough.”
After the election, some commissioners said they thought Ufford-Chase had won in part because he’s young . “As the face of the church, he will make a difference, especially when he goes to college campuses,” said Phil Burns, a youth advisory delegate from San Gabriel presbytery.
The question of ordaining homosexuals was presented head-on — with McKechnie supporting the PC(USA)’s current ordination standards, which restrict ordination to those who practice fidelity if they’re married or chastity if they are not, and Ptomey and Ufford-Chase saying they do not, although they would not try to impose their own views on the church if serving as moderator.
Before the election, McKechnie — the pastor of the 4,400-member Grace church in Houston and a native of Canada — clearly gave a Texas twist to his campaign, wrapping his brochures around red bandanas (“35 things to do with a cowboy’s bandana,” the brochure explained, in case anybody needed to use it as a sling for a broken arm or to blindfold their spooked horse). McKechnie supporters wore their red bandanas jauntily around their necks, tied to their tote bags, and during the “meet the candidates” session, he had one peeking out of the pocket of his navy-blue blazer.
For 22 years, Ptomey has been pastor of Westminster church, an 1,800-member congregation in Nashville that he told the Assembly has a “wild” diversity, from supporters of the Lay Committee to the Covenant Network. His supporters wore blue stickers saying, “K.C. — Bringing us Together,” emphasizing his theme of working to bring the diverse strands of Presbyterian belief together.
But Ufford-Chase’s supporters kept things free-flowing, standing behind him as he shook hands, painting a banner representing the work he’s done for two decades as a mission co-worker along the U.S.-Mexico border. As he answered questions, a young woman with blonde pigtails dipped her brush into a dab of paint and added the figures of two girls in blue shirts near the river.
Ufford-Chase is fluent in Spanish, is co-moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and has trained with Christian Tentmaker Teams, which sends teams of Christians to be a nonviolent presence in some of the world’s hottest trouble spots, including Iraq, the West Bank and Colombia.
“The Presbyterian Church USA is alive and excited about its mission in the world and I am so glad to be a part of that,” Ufford-Chase said, in a press conference after the election. “I’ve been dreaming about this opportunity for two full years and I can’t wait for the process to unfold.”
The moderator’s term is a taxing position involving a great deal of travel. Asked how he would manage the responsibilities, Ufford-Chase said, “This position in no way means I’m going to abandon my family for two years.” (His wife, Kitty Ufford-Chase, with whom he has a 9-year-old son, Teo, urged reporters,”Write it down, write it down.”) And he plans to continue ministry on the border. “My nickname on the border is the Energizer Bunny.”
Chase has said he hopes to reenergize youth and young adults in ministries of the church and made one specific pledge — to double the number of participants in young adult volunteer programs during his two-year term. The programs “are an incredibly, mostly unknown opportunity,” he said.
Ufford-Chase urged Presbyterians to take more risks, “challenging ourselves to let go of comfort and thinking about our privileges and stepping into new and different situations. This is about being pastoral. It’s rare that I’m not scared when I put myself in a new situation. So let’s hold hands and take a deep breath and do it together because that’s what Jesus would have us do.”