Presbyterian Minister Faces Charges for Performing Same-Gender Wedding

News release

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — 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 men.

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, California.

“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.”