Inclusive Churches Working Together
May 24, 1997
News From Across the Synod of the Northeast
In a remarkable memorandum dated May 22, 1997 to the congregation, the session of the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca, NY provides "Instructions to the Nominating Committee in Light of the Recent Amendment to the Book of Order 'Amendment B' Concerning Qualifications for Ordination".
Stating (that Amendment B) "adds a very unfavorable component to the guidelines for ordination of elders, deacons and clergy", the Ithaca session notes "the inherent result is to relegate particular groups of our members to second class membership while, on the other hand, the amendment is so overbroad that it precludes from serving in office virtually every person having the integrity to take its plain language seriously".
The session affirms "it is ultimately the congregation's right to decide who our ordained leaders and servants are and what the criteria are for their election" and states "if it should come to light (in the session's role to instruct, examine, ordain and install) that a person does not qualify for office based on Amendment B criteria, we, the Session, reserve the right to determine that such failure does not disqualify a person for ordination."
The complete Memorandum of Instructions is presented below for consideration by other Presbyterians as they develop courses of action in response to Amendment B.
May 22, 1997
To: The Congregation
Subj: Instructions to the Nominating Committee in Light of the Recent Amendment of the Book of Order "Amendment B" Concerning Qualifications for Ordination
We, the Session of the First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca, NY, are deeply pained by the action of the majority of the presbyteries of our denomination in adopting the "Amendment B" as a part of our constitution, the Book of Order.* (See below for the specific paragraphs in question from the Book of Order.) We believe this amendment adds a very unfavorable component to the guidelines for ordination of elders, deacons, and clergy, encouraging a judgmental rather than discerning stance for nominating committees and presbyteries. On one hand, the inherent result is to relegate particular groups of our members to second class membership, while on the other hand the amendment is so overbroad that it precludes from serving in office virtually every person having the integrity to take its plain language seriously.
We affirm it is ultimately the congregation's right to decide who our ordained leaders and servants are and what the criteria are for their election. However, to aid the Nominating Committee as its members work on our behalf to discern whom God desires to call to serve as deacon or elder, we are instructing them to use prayerfully the following criteria as their principal guide:
belief in the Two Great Commandments (Mark 12:28-34)
adherence to the Ten Commandments
commitment to Jesus Christ and this church
openness to spiritual growth
willingness to serve as leaders and servants for this congregation
We put our trust in the committee members to be lead by God's Spirit to function faithfully in the call process on behalf of the congregation, and do not see the necessity for additional guidelines or restraints.
Once an election has taken place, it is the role of session to instruct, examine, ordain and install such elected persons. In conducting our examination, if it should come to light that a person does not qualify for office based on Amendment B criteria, we, the Session, reserve the right to determine that such failure does not disqualify a person for ordination.
Furthermore, we commit ourselves to the ongoing work of spiritual growth for all of us. As we walk alongside and learn from the pain of those who are most affected by this amendment in our church and community, we recognize our need to learn further what makes for healthy sexuality in all committed relationships. We seek understanding, justice, empowerment, and most of all, a place of welcome in God's kingdom for all, most especially those who are now marginalized. We do not seek superficial grace, but rather we pray for profound grace for us all as we stand before the God of truth and love. We commit to being more intentional in our study of the Bible and in how we are guided by the scriptures.
No institution is perfect. Our church is a denomination in process through God's grace. Therefore, we also commit ourselves to work to change this amendment within the due process of our denomination, seeking to maintain the peace, unity, and purity of the church. May we be found faithful and may God be glorified through our response.
|Anita M. Cummings||Scott D. Hill|
a. To those called to exercise special functions in the church - deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament - God gives suitable gifts for their various duties. In addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, 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. They must have the approval of God's people and the concurring judgment of a governing body of the church.
b. (new paragraph added by Amendment B) Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the Confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Inclusive Churches Working Together
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