Open and Affirming Updates
Policy Regarding Inclusion of Gay and Lesbian People in the Life of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church
Report to the Congregation about Session's Revised Open and Affirming Policy
After an extensive three-year process, in May 2010, Session approved a policy statement regarding MIPC becoming more welcoming to gay and lesbian people. After the policy was announced, some congregation members requested the opportunity to learn more about the policy and to provide additional input for the Session’s consideration.
Since that time, Session and clergy have listened, prayed, received feedback, letters, emails, documents, and had pastoral counseling sessions and informal conversations with groups and many individuals. Our congregational survey last fall (conducted both in worship and on-line) also sought input from members about the church’s stance on these issues. Session also held a series of conversational and educational forums regarding the policy. After receiving all of this input with interest and gratitude, Session created a review team to re-visit the wording of the original policy.
At its February 2011 meeting Session voted to approve a revised version of the Open and Affirming Policy. Our hope and prayer is that this revised policy reflects our intention to honor the people of this beloved community of faith we call MIPC, our Presbyterian faith heritage, and the people we may not yet know, who because of this policy, will feel invited and fully welcomed to join our church family.
In the revised policy, Session attempted to address a number of concerns raised by some members of the congregation. Most fundamentally, some objected to Session adopting a policy that did not reflect their views. They questioned the process by which the policy had been adopted, and whether the policy might impair MIPC’s relationship with the PC(USA). Some expressed concern that the policy appeared to mandate certain beliefs by congregation members. Others challenged the notion of a specific welcome to gay and lesbian persons, both because they felt the congregation was already welcoming and because our welcome should extend to all persons. The changes adopted by Session sought, to a greater or lesser extent, to respond to these concerns.
In summary form, the original policy has been revised as follows:
- The revised policy makes clear at several points that it has been adopted by Session (in accordance with Presbyterian polity, as opposed to voted on by the congregation), and acknowledges that some in our congregation may disagree with the policy in some respects.
- The revised policy includes a general reference to our church’s policy to welcome all persons. It clarifies language describing the welcome extended to gays and lesbians as “public and intentional” because there was apparent uncertainty as to what those terms meant both in the policy and in its implementation. The revised policy now states that our welcome should be “clear and unequivocal,” and that our response to gays and lesbians should be “intentional and not hidden.”
- The original policy stated that Session disagreed with current denominational rules that set different standards for the ordination of heterosexual and homosexual persons. While the Presbytery Executive has advised Session (and stated at our last forum) that it is within Session’s power to do so, this language was troubling to some members of the congregation and has been deleted. The revised policy states that “the Session encourages and supports those (including many within our congregation) who work for an ordination standard that celebrates and affirms those whom God calls to ordained ministry within the PC(USA) without regard to sexual orientation.”
- Finally, Session believed that it was important to include language encouraging continued involvement in our church community of all who hold views on this issue contrary to the policy. A gay or lesbian person entering our community should know that there is some diversity of opinion on the matter and that a policy of Session, while it can serve to open the dialogue on this issue, can’t itself change or dictate the views of our congregation.
As Session contemplates what our “next steps” might be, discussions have focused on the importance of allowing God’s Spirit to open our hearts and minds to a greater understanding of what this policy will mean for the future of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church.
Session expresses its gratitude and thanks to all those who have so faithfully participated in this process, including members of previous Sessions, the members of the Open and Affirming Task Force, and all those within the congregation who provided input and attended the forums. Any questions concerning the policy can be directed to Session c/o the Session Clerk.
Please download the current Open and Affirming Policy as of February 2011 below: