Elmhurst clergy have expressed varied reactions to the Presbyterian Church (USA) removing its constitutional requirement that ministers live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”


The new language allows for people who are openly gay and non-celibate to be considered for ordination.


In an open letter to its members, the Presbyterian Church (USA) said trying to decide whether to allow sexually active gay and lesbian clergy was “a family struggle.”


“The debate about ordination standards has been a Presbyterian family struggle for much of the last three decades,” the letter says. “We have sought to find that place where every congregation and every member, deacon, elder, and minister of the Word and Sacrament can share their gifts in ministry while, at the same time, the integrity of every congregation, member, deacon, elder, and minister is respected.” (Read full letter here)


The letter went on to say official tallies indicate that 87 presbyteries, a majority required for approval, have signed off on the constitutional amendment, known as 10-A.


Elmhurst Presbyterian Church Pastor Cliff Lyda said the ordination of gays is nothing new.


“We’ve ordained gays forever,” Lyda said. “But we always insisted they were celibate.”


Lyda is a moderator for the Presbytery of Chicago, and was the preacher at the worship service at the December 2010 Presbytery Assembly in Chicago. He was in Minneapolis at a meeting of the church’s General Assembly when Amendment 10-A passed.


“This [decision] was a welcome change in my mind because it is more inclusive of a group who thought we hated them,” Lyda said.


But Pastor Michael Toburen of Elmhurst’s Yorkfield Presbyterian Church sees things somewhat differently.


“We are learning to keep an open dialogue despite our differences,” Toburen said. “I personally have a conservative view and feel the Bible is clear on the topic.”


The Biblical passage that Toburen referred to is I Corinthians 6: 9-10, which says: “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”


Toburen and Lyda said there are scholars who are closely examining the Apostle Paul’s intent when he wrote the passage in I Corinthians. And Lyda admits to having grappled with the Biblical view of homosexuality for the last 35 years.


Lyda used to be in the camp that opposed ordaining homosexuals, “but I have come to understand things differently,” he said.


Society has evolved, and being insistent on the literalness of the Bible is hypocritical, he said.


But Toburen said he is still evaluating and studying.


“It is a genuine tension for me,” he said.


And, other Elmhurst clergy may be feeling a similar tension, because several who were contacted by Elmhurst Patch did not want to go on record regarding the gay and lesbian clergy issue.


How will parishioners be affected?


A May 10 article on Huffington Post projects a decline in attendance.


“As with other denominations that have allowed gay clergy, most notably Episcopalians, disapproving congregations will likely leave the church,” the article says. “According to the Presbyterian News Service, around 100 congregations have defected in recent years, many of which leaned conservative.”


The Presbyterian Church (USA) Web site offers tools to help pastors and their congregation with the idea of homosexuality and the clergy, including video messages by leaders and a section with frequently asked questions.


But Pastor Toburen is taking a more proactive approach with his Yorkfield congregation by offering a Bible study called Homosexuality and the Bible.


The study is put out by a group called The Thoughtful Christian, which offers many culturally relevant studies.


“Our church is a microcosm of all churches in terms of thought and diversity of opinion,” Toburen said. “We have some who have no problem at all, others who are OK with gays but not as pastors, and still some who say it is against the Bible and is a sin.”


Toburen hopes that by studying and discussing the Biblical view of homosexuality they will all have a better understanding of how to proceed.


The approval of the 10-A amendment does not constitute a mandate. Each local presbytery can decide whether to allow gay and lesbian clergy or not.


“The new wording gave the constitution more integrity,” Lyda said. “It restored the local churches right to examine each candidate.”


“It is not an edict from the national church,” Toburen said. “Some churches will openly welcome gay clergy and some will not. So we’ll have like a patchwork quilt.”