Changes in PCUSA Book of Order

     Recently you may have seen in the media where a majority of the presbyteries (geographic organizations of Presbyterian Churches) of the Presbyterian Church USA, including our own Foothills Presbytery, have voted to change the Presbyterian Church's Book of Order.  Some of you have asked what this means for us here at Westminster.  Let me attempt to respond to this with a series of questions and answers:

  1. What was the change to the Book of Order?
    The Book of Order has read: "Marriage involves a unique commitment between a man and woman..."  Beginning on June 21, 2015, it will read: "Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman."
  2. Will the change in the Book of Order allow pastors to perform marriage services for same-gender couples?
    Yes, as long as the couple "meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry."  (Which essentially means they must be seeking to be married in a state where to do so is legal.)
  3. Will the change in the Book of Order require pastors to conduct marriage services for same-gender couples?
    No.  A pastor cannot be compelled to perform a marriage service for a same-gender couple.
  4. Will the change in the Book of Order allow sessions to approve holding marriage services for same-gender couples on church property?
    Yes.  Sessions may permit the use of church property for the marriage service of the same-gender couple.
  5. Will the change in the Book of Order require sessions to allow marriage services for same-gender couples to be held on church property?
    No.  Sessions may decide not to allow use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.
  6. Will a member of Westminster, or any Presbyterian Church, be expected or required to view this topic in a certain way?
    No.  As Presbyterians, we believe God alone is Lord of the conscience.  As a highly diverse church, Westminster will have members who view same gender marriage from a multitude of perspectives.  Our belief that God's love and forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ is the core of our faith.  Our desire to express that belief in word and deed will continue to drive our worship and work.
  7. Will a session be able to prohibit the pastor from conducting a marriage service for a same-gender couple or compel the pastor to perform such a marriage service?
    No.  Apart from denying a request for a marriage service to be held within church facilities, the session cannot prohibit the pastor from conducting the marriage service of a same-gender couple, nor compel the pastor to conduct any such service.
  8. Will a pastor be able to conduct a marriage service within church facilities without session approval?
    No.  As with all marriages, only session has the authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.  The pastor cannot compel the session to approve a marriage service nor can the pastor conduct any such service within the church facilities without session approval.
  9. Will this change in the Book of Order affect Westminster's wedding booklet?
    No.  Whoever is married here will be governed by the same guidelines.  Westminster will only conduct weddings for our church members and their children.  Couples desiring to be married must undergo premarital counseling.  And the wedding ceremony and music will be within the Presbyterian tradition.  All guidelines concerning photography, flowers, length of time one must be a member in order to pay lower fees, etc. will remain exactly the same.
  10. How will Westminster decide how to respond to this change in the Book of Order?
    In the Presbyterian way - decently and in order.
         First, we will allow the civil courts to come to a conclusion concerning same gender marriage.
         Second, we will provide opportunities for members to engage in this discussion, understanding we are a diverse church with many different viewpoints.  Through listening to one another, we will ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we seek God's will on this issue.
         Third, ultimately, when it believes it is ready, the Session will decide how Westminster will respond to this change.

     Westminster has a history of tackling difficult issues.  For instance, when racial integration and the role of women in church leadership were controversial topics, Westminster studied, talked, and came to a conclusion of how to proceed, believing that decision was God's will for the church.  We will do the same with this issue.
     I urge each of you to participate in opportunities to study this topic from biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.  Let us open our hearts and minds to hear God speak to us.  As always, I am available to anyone who would like to discuss this topic.

Ludwig Weaver

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