An historic change will take place in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Sunday when a measure takes effect allowing openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy.
The change, which was approved by a majority of the church's regional bodies in May after contentious debate in the 2.8-million member denomination, is being marked by a day of prayer at dozens of churches.
"We are entering a new era of equality," said Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a Minnesota-based church group that has pushed to allow openly gay clergy. "Across this country members of welcoming and affirming congregations and ministries are telling the stories of faithful candidates who can now be considered for ordination."
The new rules, which also apply to elders and deacons, do not require churches to ordain gay candidates, but they remove barriers to their ordination that were written into the church's constitution. The old text of the church's Book of Order banned non-celibate clergy who did not live "within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman." That prohibition was added in 1997.
The new Book of Order does not mention gay clergy, but it removes a requirement of chastity for non-married clergy. It places more emphasis on character traits such as a "candidate's calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability" and presbyteries' powers in picking ministers.
Pro-gay clergy advocates said that they don't expect any ordinations to happen Sunday, as the change is a technical one and Presbyterian seminarians are traditionally ordained once they find employment. But Adee said he knew of several closeted gay clergy who are planning on coming out because of the new rules.
"Presbyterians are buzzing everywhere around the country," said Paul Mowry, a 49-year-old gay seminarian from New York City who will likely be one of the first gay clergy ordained after the measure's passage. Mowry, who comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers, said he had wanted to be a minister since childhood but put those aspirations on hold after coming out of the closet in high school. He left the banking industry in 2005 to become a seminarian and is currently applying for ministry positions.
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