Pittsburgh Presbytery did some initial processing of a controversial matter early in its September 7 meeting at the Crestfield Camp & Conference Center. The sessions of four congregations (Union Presbyterian Church of Robinson Township, Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Riverdale Presbyterian Church, and the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown) had submitted an overture on ordination standards. Presbytery Council had determined that the overture was controversial, with the result that it would not be before the Presbytery for final action until the next Presbytery meeting.
The one-page overture asks the Presbytery to do three things: first, adopt a principle that compliance with the approved ordination standards is an "essential" of reformed polity; second, to resolve that there would be no exceptions to the policy that Ministers of Word and Sacrament must "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness"; and third, to prohibit Ministers of Word and Sacrament from conducting same sex-marriages within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh Presbytery.
In order to facilitate handling the overture, the Stated Clerk moved it. Debate initially involved challenging the Council's determination that the overture was controversial. The Council's explanation was that the time it took them to discuss the overture was sufficient evidence that the overture was controversial. By a very strong standing vote the Presbytery affirmed the Council's finding that the overture was controversial.
The other big procedural question the Presbytery handled was whether the overture should be referred to committees that might work on the overture for a long time before being ready to report it out. That motion failed, so the overture will come to Pittsburgh Presbytery for vote in October.
Because of the two procedural issues at this meeting it was necessary to extend debate, and one member of the Presbytery asked for people to focus in debate on the main question rather than the procedural issues. It seemed to me that it is very hard for us to talk about the main question, and that this overture was one more occasion for us to talk about procedures rather than get down to the main question.
At one point in the debate there were moving statements: first by an elder with a gay son voicing his concerns about how our church's policy excludes someone so dear to him; and second by a minister with a lesbian granddaughter voicing her concerns that her deeply loved granddaughter should not be in ordained ministry in the PCUSA. That interchange seemed to be the point where we got the closest to dealing with the real issue.
Maybe we'll get closer and stay closer to the main question in October. My other articles about this meeting: A. Preliminary thoughts B. Overview C. Worship D. Ordination Overture E. Reflective listening F. Administrative Commissions G. Vocational Matters