GNW Pride: A Presbyterian Version of the One Church Plan


"One Church Model," Presbyterian Church (USA) Style

I recently came back from an incredible Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC)/Reconciling Methodist Network Convocation in St. Louis, MO, meeting old friends and making new friends and alliances, which will be of great help and support in my role as the LGBTQ Advocacy Coordinator in the OR-ID UMC Conference.  I now understand groups such as Affirmation, MFSA, LYNC (Love Your Neighbor Coalition), and am now a part of the Queer Clergy Caucus as a step-son. Thanks to all who talked and walked with me during that time. I also was riveted by the speakers throughout my time there, challenged, laughed, hugged, walked with others, and listened to what is going on in terms of the way forward. I sat session after session, listening to the various plans: Traditionalist, One Church, Connectional, and Simple.

What I kept going back to, though, was my own experience as an out gay Presbyterian Church (USA) clergyperson, in which my denomination, which is US based, has been experimenting with the One Church model in our denominational polity.  At the time we were making our way forward, many worried about the unity of the PCUSA, along with our connectionalism (yes, same words, same understanding), and how the way forward for us as Presbyterians did not do enough in terms of LGBTQ validation.  What “worked” for us is that we changed the ordination standard, removing the language of “fidelity in marriage, chastity/celibacy in singleness,” from our Book of Order, to simply being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, and called to be a teaching elder/Minister of the Word and Sacrament. Along with this change, it is also now our polity that I, as an out gay Presbyterian clergy person, will be welcomed to apply and serve a church in some Presbyteries (Annual Conferences), while some Presbyteries will not let me serve a church in their regional body. This all happened in May 2011. Since then, with each and every passing General Assembly, slowly but surely, more advances have been made in terms of the PCUSA acknowledging those of us who are LGBGTQ , including same sex marriage in our sanctuaries if the Session and Minister approve (which is the same for all weddings). And in the most recent General Assembly of 2018, held in St. Louis, MO, there were more advances in the body of the PCUSA, with more motions and amendments to the Book of Order acknowledging the presence and ministry of all who are called to serve as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, straight and LGBTQ alike. In 2010/2011, many of us wanted a more clearly worded amendment to our Constitution/Book of Order, acknowledging that LGBTQ people would be permitted to be ordained, along in the called position of Elder and Deacon, e.g., the Simple Plan, Presbyterian style.  Nonetheless, the body chose not to "sacrifice the good in search of the perfect."  Under our “One Church” model, since then, each and every year, with every passing General Assembly, we make our way forward in further accepting and affirming and naming the gifts and talents and calling of LGBTQ people in the PCUSA.

My hope and prayer, as I walk and work alongside you, my sisters and brothers in the UMC, is that the way forward is one of acceptance, love, and hope in welcoming the gifts and talents of all, LGBTQ and straight alike, whether one is called to be an Elder, Deacon, lay leader, or laity, within the UMC denomination. I look forward to making a way forward, not back. Or as we would say in the NC Moral Monday movement, "Forward Together, Not One Step Back!"  The One Church Plan is working for your Presbyterian sisters and brothers.  Use us as an experiment-in-motion. Ask us question. Challenge us. Love us.  But see and hear how, in the PCUSA, ELCA, Moravians, UCC, and Unitarians, God is doing a new thing. And God is doing a new thing in the UMC. Thanks be to God.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!