Room to Discern

ringsIn the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding marriage equality, many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations across the country are in a quandary.   The uncomfortable reality is that the while ministers (teaching elders) are allowed to make the pastoral decision as to whether or not to marry a couple of the same sex, sessions (local governing bodies) are in control of church property.

It’s possible that a pastor might want to perform the marriage of a couple of the same sex while the session of the church the pastor serves might prohibit the marriage from taking place on church property.

Some sessions are rushing to produce written policies declaring openness to same-sex marriage while others are rushing to prohibit them on church property regardless of the wishes of their pastor. What a mess!

Before the change in our church Constitution and the ruling of the Supreme Court, this was the practice at First Presbyterian. A couple fills out a marriage application. The wedding date is penciled on the church calendar. I meet with the couple for pre-marriage counseling or arrange for counseling if the couple is from out of town. After a period of mutual discernment I decide if I will preside at the wedding. If the marriage is to take place on church property, what was penciled becomes permanent. After the marriage has taken place – whether on or off church property – I report the wedding to the session.

In effect, the session has given me carte blanche to perform marriages on church property.

Last Sunday when I asked for advice from the session of First Presbyterian Church, they said, in effect. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. If you need to consult us, we’re always open to discussion.”

No policies chiseled in stone. No pastoral hands tied. Just a gracious provision of room for me to do what I’m called to do as pastor and teaching elder at First Presbyterian Church.

Does that mean that First Church will host same-sex marriages? The answer is, “That depends. Which couple are you talking about?” Until the discernment period with the pastor and the couple is completed, I can’t answer that question.

Now, if the questions is, “May same-sex couples apply for marriage by the pastor of First Church?” the pastor’s answer is “Yes.”

I’m keenly aware that I am blessed to serve this congregation. My recent conversation with the session is more evidence of that blessing. Just in case you think I take that blessing for granted, you should listen in on my daily prayers.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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