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Southminster Presbyterian Church members draft proposal that rewrites the large denomination's definition of marriage.



TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - June Carlson, left, the ruling elder at Southminster Presbyterian Church, was among members who took a proposal to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples from an adult studies class in Beaverton to an amendment approved in their denomination's Book of Order. The Rev. John Shuck is newly hired and supports gender equality issues within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).A recent decision by America’s largest Presbyterian denomination to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions was born in Beaverton.

Members of the local Southminster Presbyterian Church penned the resolution that, with some amendments, altered the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“It was important to me because my whole goal is to promote inclusivity, and I think that’s consistent with what we as Christians should be,” said June Carlson of Garden Home, who helped start a grass-roots effort that sprouted at Southminster. “To deny rights to people goes against my grain.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly recommended the amendment last year but it took a majority of presbyteries, or regional organizations, to ratify changes to a document that serves as the church constitution for its approximately 1.8 million members.

That majority arrived March 17, when the Presbytery of the Palisades in New Jersey became the 86th of 171 presbyteries to agree to change its definition of marriage from being a union of “a man and woman” to being one of “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

That last phrase was a late addition to the definition change that grew out of the Beaverton church, located at 12250 S.W. Denney Road, but Carlson said it accomplished their goals. Of the presbyteries who have voted to date, more than two-thirds have supported the amendment.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Rev. John Shuck discusses their church's efforts to achieve gender equality in marriage while June Carlson listens.The newly arrived Rev. John Shuck has yet to perform a same-sex marriage at the Beaverton church, but on Friday, he sounded more than happy to preside over it when it arrives.

Regardless of the church's definition, the legality of same-gender marriages will depend on the state or other jurisdiction where they are performed.

A majority of Southminster members, Carlson said, had long been in favor of liberalizing the definition of marriage to be more inclusive. Similar topics had long been debated within the broader church as well.

In early 2013, now-retired minister Peg Pfab suggested that an adult studies group at the church tackle the topic in their class.

Carlson said other church members who played major roles in drafting the resolution included Sue Kozak and Jeff Tefelske.

Southminster members wrote an overture and presented a proposal that fall at a meeting of the region’s Cascades Presbytery, which lent its support. Other presbyteries from around the U.S. concurred and a group of representatives brought the matter to the General Assembly last June, which also agreed. Carlson helped introduce the resolution.

Carlson and Shuck were reluctant to pin too much credit to their Beaverton congregation for the nationwide shift because they believe a number of their counterparts would have done the same in short order.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - June Carlson of Garden Home is an elder at the Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, where she led a small group of members who helped rewrite their large denomination's definition of marriage so it includes same-gender unions.“I would say there’s been a groundswell of activity,” Carlson said. “This congregation was the first to raise its voice, but other congregations were poised to launch.”

Carlson said that Shuck, who previously was a Presbyterian minister in northeastern Tennessee, was hired in part for his progressive views. Some Presbyterian clergy members had performed same-sex marriages even before the recent amendment, and a few had been prosecuted within the church before the tide shifted in a more inclusive direction. Shuck himself performed the marriage ceremony between his daughter and her wife in New York a couple years ago but was not disciplined for his role there.

“It’s been part of my mission to reach out to people who have been burned by the church,” Shuck said.

Shuck said ministers who are uncomfortable marrying same-sex couples don’t have to do so.

“This amendment doesn’t force anybody to do anything different,” he said, but later added that the new definition serves as “an important symbol to say this discrimination has ended.”

Laura Chapman, 18, is grateful for that. She has attended Southminster since she was in elementary school and recently graduated from Tigard High School.

While she wasn’t part of the group that drafted the original resolution, she got involved at church and attended last year’s General Assembly, where she shared her views with smaller groups. She said her interest in gender equality in the church stems partly from being bisexual.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tigard resident Laura Chapman, 18, got involved in Southminster Presbyterian Church's efforts to win marriage equality too late to help pen an amendment that eventually altered their denomination's Book of Order. But Chapman spoke to people in smaller groups at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, where the proposal won recognition that recently resulted in the denomination's constitutional rewrite to allow same-sex marriages to be performed.“I feel like it’s important for our church to move forward on this issue and become more inclusive,” Chapman, now a freshman at Oregon State University, said by telephone.

“I feel that God views marriage more about love and less about the specifics of the people,” she said. “This was really personal for me, so that’s why I chose to speak up about it.”

More information

More information about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) marriage amendment, including access to the full text, is available in the marriage section of its website.

Footnote

Members of Southminster Presbyterian Church planned to celebrate their denomination’s redefinition of marriage to include couples of any gender during their Sunday services on March 22.

June Carlson will be among members involved in that process who plan to speak to the congregation, while Rev. John Shuck’s sermon will also address the topic. Cake will be served.

“I don’t think it’ll be a wedding cake,” Carlson said with a smile, “just a cake.”


By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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