PUEBLO WEST, COLORADO, February 21, 2013 – A much smaller Pueblo Presbytery has reversed itself, falling one vote short of the majority needed to ratify an amendment to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s constitution – an amendment calling for repentance in the lives of those being ordained to church office.
In a stunning tie vote of 22-to-22, the presbytery, meeting at the Ecumenical Church of Pueblo West, failed to lend its support to an amendment that a year ago it had proposed – an amendment which was originally recommended as an overture to the General Assembly by the Presbytery of San Jose and which Pueblo Presbytery then endorsed by a significant majority.
The change in voting pattern reflects a huge change in this southeastern Colorado presbytery. In the past year approximately 70 percent of the presbytery’s members left the PC(USA) to join other denominations. Most of those “faithfully departed” are members of the large First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, with more than 4,000 members, which voted in March of 2012 to join the new denomination ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. A half dozen other churches from Pueblo Presbytery also voted last year to leave the PC(USA).
The overture from San Jose was prepared and adopted shortly after the denomination ratified new constitutional language that rescinded the requirement that those being ordained or installed to the office of minister, elder or deacon must practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single. The replacement language, proposed by the 2010 General Assembly and ratified by the presbyteries in 2011, requires candidates for office to be “persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus as Savior and Lord.” It adds, “Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world.”
A number of presbyteries sent overtures to the 2012 General Assembly seeking either to return to the earlier language or somehow otherwise change the requirements. In the end, the assembly voted 329-to-275 to recommend a new constitutional change – to adopt the relatively brief addition of language suggested by San Jose presbytery. If approved by a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries, the final language of the revised ordination requirement will be (italics added to identify the newly proposed amendment):
“To those called to exercise special functions in the church—deacons, ruling elders, and teaching elders—God gives suitable gifts for their various duties. In addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world. This includes repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace. They must have the approval of God’s people and the concurring judgment of a council of the church.”
The 2011 ratification of the newer, less specific requirements – acknowledged by most Presbyterian leaders as intending to eliminate a prohibition on the PC(USA)’s ordaining gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons who are not celibate – led to the newest round of congregational defections to either the newly formed ECO or to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination founded in the early 1980’s.
Presbyteries throughout the denomination are in the process of casting their votes for or against this new proposed language suggested by San Jose Presbytery, and on 12 other proposed constitutional amendments on other issues. The Office of the General Assembly (OGA) reports that the present official tally on this proposed amendment is 18 presbyteries in favor, 19 against. The OGA will announce the final voting results in early summer.
Read Tom Trinidad’s reflection on 12-B here.