24 February 2009

Arkansas Presbyterian congregation elects openly gay deacon

Our brother blogger, Arkansas Hillbilly, pointed me to a story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette about the first openly gay deacon in the Arkansas Presbyterian Church USA (possibly the first openly gay deacon in the denomination).

According to reporter Frank Lockwood,

Little Rock's Second Presbyterian Church, which has 1,700 members, elected a slate of a dozen adult deacons, including openly gay member Michael Upson.

The candidates ran unopposed and the slate was approved by voice vote. Only a smattering of "no" votes was heard, and the outcome was greeted with some applause.

The vote was the first of any church in the Arkansas Presbytery since it voted to remove restrictions on homosexuality from the denominations book of order.

Upson has been in a committed relationship for the past twenty-two years. He is also a bell choir member, sunday school teacher, Vacation Bible School teacher, and in charge of the church's acolyte programme.
Elder Cyril Hollingsworth said the election won't change Upson's role at Second Presbyterian dramatically.

"Frankly he'll be doing the same kind of work and service that he's been doing in the church. It'll just be in an officer capacity," Hollingsworth said.

In a Feb. 9 "Dear Fellow Members" letter, the nominating committee said that Upson "is a gay man and has been in a relationship with another man for some 22 years."

The letter said Upson will declare a "scruple" - essentially a conscientious objection - to the constitutional ban on homosexual ordination. If the church's governing officers, known as elders, decide he is fit to serve, he will be ordained to the diaconate.

The Presbyterian Church's constitution currently requires ordained deacons, elders and ministers "to live either in fidelity within the covenant marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." But the church's national governing body, known as the General Assembly, voted in June for a constitutional amendment deleting the language on sexuality.

Meeting in San Jose, Calif., the General Assembly also voted to nullify past church judicial rulings on the fidelity/chastity standard and to allow ministry candidates to raise "scruples" if they disagree with the church's constitution.

A majority of the denomination's presbyteries must approve the amendment before it takes effect. But the "scruple" provision is already on the books.

Now, even the Calvinists aren't Calvinist enough for some quasi-Anglicans.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the nation's ninth-largest religious body.