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Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to allow gay and lesbian clergy

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The deciding vote was cast by the Twin Cities presbytery
  • The change will take effect starting July 10
  • "Feelings on both sides run deep," denominational leaders say in a letter

(CNN) -- The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers.

The church put the vote to its 173 presbyteries, or governing bodies, nationwide.

On Tuesday, the Twin Citites Area presbytery, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, became the 87th presbytery -- and the deciding vote -- to approve an amendment that will remove the constitutional requirement that all ministers, elders and deacons live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."

The change, which opens up the possibility that people in same-sex relationships can be considered for ordination, is expected to take effect starting on July 10. It is the latest move by a Protestant denomination toward the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy.

"I see this as an opportunity to build a stronger church. Faithful and qualified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians will be able to openly serve the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love," said Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, soon after the vote.

Denominational leaders sent a letter to all congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which compared the debate around ordination standards to a "Presbyterian family struggle." According to the church's website, it has 2.3 million members in 50 states and Puerto Rico.

"Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep," the letter said. "Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PC(USA) an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep."

An organization called Presbyterians for Renewal spoke out against the possible change earlier this month, calling it a "source of unspeakably deep grief."

"While in some ways this vote is just another step in the ongoing disintegration of a denomination we have known and loved, this particular vote verifies the deep and unquestionable divisions among us -- and consummates a significant institutional departure from the Christian faith we have been called to pro-claim," it said.

Last year, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly lesbian bishop -- the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles -- in the face of objections from some conservative Anglicans. Her consecration drew opposition from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who said Glasspool's ordination would deepen rifts in the church.

Glasspool was the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church since Gene Robinson took office in New Hampshire in 2004. Episcopalians instituted a temporary ban on gay bishops after Robinson's ordination but later revoked that ban.