Presbytery votes to permit Larges ordination; stay of enforcement sought

            During a late-night meeting that Presbyterians followed coast-to-coast via Twitter, the presbytery voted 156-138 to allow Larges to be ordained. And it voted 157-144 to approve That All May Freely Serve, for which Larges serves as minister coordinator, as a validated ministry.

           Mary Holder Naegeli, a minister from San Francisco Presbytery who has been involved with earlier legal challenges to Larges’ efforts to be ordained, released a statement to the news media on Nov. 11, saying that “enough signatures were collected at the close of the meeting to secure a Stay of Enforcement while a remedial complaint is filed with the Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission.”

            Naegeli’s statement also says that until that complaint is resolved in the church court system, Larges cannot be ordained.

            The vote to permit Larges’ ordination is seen as groundbreaking in part because Larges has declared a “scruple,” or a conscientious objection, to the section of the PC(USA)’s Book of Order that limits ordination to those who practice chastity if they are single or fidelity if they are married.

            Following a procedure recommended by the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PC(USA), Larges declared a formal objection to the “fidelity and chastity” requirement and asked that the presbytery ordain her with that understanding. The General Assembly has passed an authoritative interpretation saying that a governing body can allow such exceptions to the rules on a case-by-case basis if it determines that the departure does not involve an “essential” of Reformed faith or polity.

          In a statement she presented to the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry, Larges declared the “fidelity and chastity” requirement to be “a mar upon the church and a stumbling block to its mission,” and said she could not in conscience comply with it.

          In answer to questions presented during her examination by the presbytery last night, Larges spoke of her efforts to walk along side those who disagree with her on how to interpret Scripture and of the call to ministry she has continued to sense through her 23-year journey to be ordained.

          A 1989 graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Larges  – who is blind – has served as a deacon at Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco. She also works for That All May Freely Serve, a group advocating full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in the PC(USA).

         After the vote, some Presbyterians celebrated, while others mourned.

         As the reaction echoes through the denomination, a challenge to Larges’ ordination is almost certain to be filed in the church courts. The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission has not yet ruled on the central question of whether conscientious objections to the “fidelity and chastity” requirement should be permitted.

         And already there have been challenges to the process in Larges’ case as it’s worked its way through the system, including an effort to keep the presbytery from taking the vote it just did.

        On January 15, 2008, after discussing the matter in closed session, San Francisco Presbytery voted 167-151 to approve Larges as “ready for examination, with departure” – meaning it acknowledged the scruple she had declared.

        Some ministers from the presbytery appealed that decision and the permanent judicial commission of the Synod of the Pacific nullified that vote in a March 2009 decision. The synod court ruled that the presbytery’s debate and vote in January 2008 did not constitute an examination of Larges and that it violated a requirement that those being examined appear personally before the presbytery at that meeting and make a brief statement of personal faith.

        So the synod court sent the matter back to the presbytery for reconsideration.

        But three ministers from the synod appealed that ruling, asking the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the highest court in the PC(USA), to determine that San Francisco Presbytery should not conduct the examination.

        The ministers filing the appeal stated in a brief that the “burning question to which the church needs a clear answer” is whether a presbytery is prohibited from waiving mandatory church-wide ordination requirements, and specifically the “fidelity and chastity” language.

         The GAPJC ruled instead that the synod court was correct in determining that the presbytery examination was the correct time for San Francisco Presbytery to consider the objection that Larges wants to declare. And it determined that the presbytery did not err in declining to remove Larges from its roll of candidates.

         The court ruled that the presbytery must follow the required process “to determine whether the Candidate has expressed an interpretation of Scripture that represents a serious departure from essentials of Reformed faith and polity, and if it determines that she has, it must then decide whether the departure infringes on the rights and views of others or obstructs the constitutional governance of the church.”

         That’s what happened during the Nov. 10 presbytery meeting — with the presbytery narrowly voting to accept the departure from the standards that Larges presented.

         The vote last night marks the third time that Larges’ candidacy has been directly considered.

         Previously, she was a candidate for ministry in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, the part of the country in which she had grown up. But, after she informed the presbytery about her sexual identity as a lesbian, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled against her candidacy in 1992.

         She later transferred her candidacy to San Francisco. That presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry voted in 2004 against recommending her for ordination, but allowed her to continue on as a candidate, aware of the passionate, ongoing debate within the PC(USA) and across Christianity over gay ordination, a debate which continues today.

 

Lisa Larges’ statement of faith to San Francisco Presbytery:
http://www.covenantnetwork.org/news/auth_interp/Larges_Statement_of_Faith.pdf

Lisa Larges’ statement of departure from G-6.0106b:
http://www.covenantnetwork.org/news/auth_interp/Larges_statement_of%20departure.pdf

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