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Presbyterian Minister Faces Charges for Performing Same Gender Wedding
San Rafael California
-- On November 19, 2004, the Presbytery of the Redwoods in the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), the regional governing body of the 2.1 million member denomination,
filed a disciplinary charge against the Reverend Dr. Jane Adams Spahr, Minister
Director of That All May Freely Serve. The charge was based on her participation
in a same-gender marriage. The Presbytery of the Redwoods did not initiate
the disciplinary action, however, after a thorough investigation of allegations
forwarded by the Reverend James Berkley, of Bellevue WA, the investigatory
committee of the presbytery reluctantly filed charges against Rev. Spahr.
"I am so grateful to Redwoods Presbytery," said Rev. Spahr, "As they have
a long history of standing for justice for lgbt people, and they have stood
by me and my ministry in this area and throughout the country for the last
nearly thirty years. I know how difficult it has been for them to take this
step, but I am glad the conversation may take place..."
The Book of Order, the church's constitution, defines marriage as "a
civil contract between a man and a woman" and a Christian marriage as
"a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together
before God their lives of discipleship." The Christian marriage service
is defined, as a service in which "a lifelong commitment is made by a
woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by
the community of faith." The charge alleges that a marriage between two
men violates the provisions of the Book of Order and the Constitution
of the Presbyterian Church. The evidence presented to the investigative
committee indicated that Rev. Spahr signed a marriage certificate and
fully participated in a ceremony defined as a marriage service for two
Rather than plead guilty to and accept the disciplinary rebuke, the
Rev. Spahr, chose to take the case to trial. The rejection by Spahr triggers
a procedure by which the matter will proceed to trial before the Permanent
Judicial Commission, the judicial authority within the Presbyterian Church.
The underlying charges involved her participation in a legally sanctioned
marriage in Canada of a couple who have been together for 20 years.
Dr. Douglas Potter and Gregory Partridge requested that the Rev. Janie
Spahr co -officiate at their marriage ceremony with a chaplain from Canada.
The Rev. Spahr conducted the marriage counseling for one year with Potter
and Partridge - her usual extensive preparation with all couples, regardless
of their sexual orientation.
Partridge and Potter wanted a marriage ceremony rather than a "holy
union" because they did not want their relationship to be legally or religiously
regarded as "second class." Spahr was honored to have been asked and to
participate in the wedding ceremony. Both Partridge and Potter are long-standing
members of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York
and vitally involved members of the ministry of That All May Freely Serve,
a mission project of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester,
New York in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon,
"Help me understand how," asks Spahr, "why, when a wonderful loving
couple, members of the congregation who co-sponsor our ministry, and dear
friends who have been together for 20 years invite me to participate in
this sacred and civil marriage - publicly marking their integrity and
love - I would ever refuse? As a matter of my faith, my love and pastoral
care for them and with them , my conscience and sense of justice, it would
have been a violation of my ordination vows to do otherwise."
A defense fund has been established to defray the legal costs necessary
to defend the Rev. Spahr through trial. Anyone wishing to contribute to
the defense is invited to send checks to:
That All May Freely Serve
P.O. Box 3707
San Rafael, California 94912
Copyright © by the author
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