Church allows gay woman to train for ministry

The Presbyterian Church said today it would allow a lesbian woman to apply for ministry following her appeal after she was turned down for training last year.

In a statement, the church said it was clarifying its policies regarding homosexual ministers.

A church judicial commission headed by Sir Duncan McMullin, heard the appeal by Deborah Gordon, an applicant for ministry, and the Wellington Presbytery.

The appeal was against a 2002 decision not to assess Ms Gordon, who is a lesbian, as an applicant.

The commission allowed the appeal, saying a 1994 assembly decision was the Church's position.

"There are currently no specific regulations barring the ordination of homosexuals.

"To date no Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has specifically endorsed the ordination of practising homosexuals...there are procedures for objection prior to the licensing, ordination or induction of any person."

The commission found on the basis of the 1994 decision, "this seems to us an indication that there was no expressed objection in principle to the licensing, ordination or induction of homosexuals as a class".

The commission directed that Ms Gordon's application to train for ministry be heard soon.

Assembly executive secretary Kerry Enright said a judicial commission had the status of the highest court of the church and there was no further right of appeal from its decisions.

Mr Enright said decisions on these matters could be made only at the church's general assemblies. The next would be held in Christchurch in 2004.

Acting Moderator, the Very Rev Rob Yule, said the Presbyterian Church had well-established procedures that allowed all people the right of appeal from committee decisions.

"This decision exemplifies the church's use of judicial and open processes.

"Within the church there will be different reactions to the Commission's decision," he said.

Ms Gordon, from St Andrew's on the Terrace in Wellington, said last year that members of the church had treated her as sub-human.

In 1996 the general assembly ruled that gays could not be ordained into the church, though those already ordained could continue as ministers.

But Rev Margaret Mayman of St Andrew's on the Terrace, also a lesbian, said last year the rule had not been ratified by the church.

It had been adopted despite a second vote on the motion in 1998 falling short of the 60 per cent required.