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Opinion Changing Religious Landscape: United Church Elects First Gay Moderator

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Vancouver reverend elected United Church of Canada's first openly gay moderator

By Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen - August 16, 2012


After the historic vote, Rev. Gary Patersons said he wouldn’t want his sexuality to become the centrepiece of his time as moderator ‘because I think there are huge issues that we are called to address,’

Photograph by: Jana Chytilova, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — In a historic vote, the United Church of Canada has elected its first openly gay moderator.

After six ballots and nearly eight hours of voting at the church’s 41st general council in Ottawa Thursday, Rev. Gary Paterson emerged from a record field of 15 candidates to win the top job at Canada’s largest Protestant church. He is thought to be the first openly gay person to head any mainstream Christian denomination.

The 350 voting commissioners at the general council greeted the announcement with cheers and a prolonged standing ovation, and quickly voted to make Paterson’s election unanimous.

“I am so humbled by the trust and the responsibility you have placed in my hands,” Paterson told them.

The moderator, who is paid between $119,000 and $135,000 a year, is the presiding officer at meetings of the church’s general council and executive, and is viewed as its principal spokesperson. Paterson will be formally installed in the role for a three-year term Saturday, succeeding the current moderator, Mardi Tindal.

At a news conference following his election, Paterson acknowledged the historic nature of his election. “Among main line denominations, as far as I know this is probably a first,” he said. But he added that he was heartened that his sexuality had been a non-issue with those who voted for the new moderator. “

“I would suspect that that’s the primary news story. What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma or problem has not, within our immediate community here, been seen that way at all.”

Having an openly gay person as moderator “is good news,” he said. “I see the possibility for so many young people who may still be struggling with their orientation being able to look up and see role models.”

For some denominations, his election “will be problematic. I’m particularly aware that some denominations in what you would call the developing world will have very serious questions. I think we need to be in dialogue, that my very presence will in some ways force the issue.”

But Paterson said he wouldn’t want his sexuality to become the centrepiece of his time as moderator. “I sure hope it is not the central issue my being a moderator, because I think there are huge issues that we are called to address,” he said.

An “army brat” who was born in the Yukon in 1949, Paterson has served as minister of three Vancouver churches: First United, in the city’s Downtown Eastside; Ryerson United, a large suburban congregation; and St. Andrew’s-Wesley, a cathedral-like church in Vancouver’s downtown, where he currently presides.

The United Church was the first mainstream church in Canada to allow the ordination of gay ministers. In 1988, the church’s general council declared that everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of sexual orientation, was welcome in the church, and all members are “eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.”

The decision was bitterly opposed by the church’s more conservative members, many of whom subsequently left the church.

In 1992, the United Church ordained Tim Stevenson, currently a Vancouver city councillor, as its first openly gay minister. Today, the church boasts many gay and lesbian ministers, and the issue is no longer contentious for most United Church members.

Paterson is married to Stevenson, who has been his partner for 30 years. After the election results were announced, Stevenson joined Paterson on the Dias and the two embraced as attendees cheered and applauded.

Paterson, who has been an ordained minister for 35 years, also has three daughters from his first marriage, now all in their 30s.

Paterson was only one of three openly gay candidates for the moderator’s job. The other two were eliminated early, as was Rev. Tom Sherwood, an Ottawa minister who served as Carleton University’s ecumenical chaplain from 1999 to 2009.

He takes office at a difficult time for the United Church, which is dealing with a steep decline in membership, aging congregations and ministers, and an accelerating financial crisis.

During this week’s meeting, there was consensus that wrenching changes lie ahead, including the closure of more churches, program and staff cuts and new forms of ministry.

Paterson addressed the church’s difficulties at his news conference.

“I’ve heard from so many individuals that they’re worried or they’re feeling a lack of hope,” he said. “The role of the moderator is someone who can bring inspiration and hope. We will find our way through. We will be changed and we will be faithful.”


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

source: http://www.{censored}/Life/Faith-Ethics/Unit

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