Rev. Jane Spahr’s Final Appeal Hearing Before the Highest Court of the Presbyterian Church, February 17, 2012

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Rev. Jane Spahr’s final appeal hearing before the highest court of the Presbyterian Church, February 17, 2012.

To send these couples away from the church would be going against what I believe about God and God’s welcome. It would go against my faith and my call.

Gay Marriage in the Church: Continuing a Sacred Responsibility

Rev. Jane Spahr’s final appeal hearing before the highest court of the Presbyterian Church, February 17, 2012

About the Appeal Hearing                                
On Friday, February 17, the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr goes before the highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) for a final appeal of her conviction for marrying 16 same-gender couples during the time it was legal in California. The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) appeal hearing will be held at the Drury Plaza Hotel (Riverwalk, 105 S. St Mary’s Street) in San Antonio, Texas (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the Presbytery of the Redwoods v. Rev. Spahr). The commission’s decision is expected on Tuesday, February 21, 2012.

As increasing numbers of states permit same-gender weddings and civil unions, Rev. Spahr hopes her appeal hearing will clarify how the denomination’s ministers can pastorally participate in such celebrations. “To send these couples away from the church would be going against what I believe about God and God’s welcome. It would go against my faith and my call,” she says. “I believe we are given a sacred responsibility to help be a part of a couple’s journey toward a life of deep loving and commitment.”

The Redwoods Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) charged Rev. Spahr for officiating at the marriages of committed same-gender couples during the months when California legally recognized these marriages. The Presbyterian constitution does not explicitly prohibit same-gender marriage and, in fact, describes marriage as “a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family.” But it also defines marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man.”

The trial was held in August 2010 and a majority of the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) found Rev. Spahr had violated the Presbyterian constitution and her ordination vows. However, the commission unanimously affirmed and gave thanks for the courage of the couples and for Rev. Spahr’s ministry to the LGBT community. The commission stated that the discrimination by and within the church with regard to marriage has harmed, and continues to harm, LGBT people.

The verdict of the Presbytery was appealed to the church’s middle governing body, the Synod, which ruled in March 2011, affirming the decision of the lower court. “But in doing so, the members of the Synod PJC recognized that there is reason to question the basis for this disciplinary offense against Rev. Spahr,” said Sara Taylor, one of Spahr’s attorneys. “And it recommended that the church clarify its policy on gay marriage. [...] To date, the church has not formulated a clear and understandable policy.”

Note: Media will not be allowed in the hearing room. Rev. Spahr, her family and friends, the Legal Defense team, 8 of the 16 couples, Presbyterian ministers, and a church polity professor are available for pre-arranged interviews from Thursday, February 16 through Saturday, February 18.

Evening worship services will be held at local San Antonio Presbyterian churches on Thursday, February 16, and Friday, February 17. Speakers will include Rev. Spahr, the Legal Defense team, as well as some of the couples. On February 16, University Presbyterian Church (300 Bushnell Avenue) invites everyone to a worship service at 7:00 p.m. followed by a reception. Madison Square Presbyterian Church (319 Camden Street) will host a post-hearing worship service on Friday, February 17, at 7:00 p.m.

On Saturday, February 18, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (14311 Wells Port Drive) in Austin, Texas, will host a Friend-Raiser and Gumbo Cook-off in support of the Spahr Legal Defense Fund. St. Andrew’s welcomes everyone to adult education and worship on Sunday, February 19. Rev. Spahr’s Legal Defense team will speak during the adult education class at 11:00 a.m.

Note: Each of these churches will have space available for media and interviews.

Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr                        
Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr, or Janie, has been an ordained Presbyterian minister for 38 years. She is passionate about her Christian faith, the guiding principles of her denomination and those she serves in her pastoral ministry.

From her first position after seminary as Minister Director of an inner-city Presbyterian Church Ministry in Pittsburgh to her years as the Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael to her role as Minister of Pastoral care at the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco, Rev. Spahr has had a long career of serving the Christian church and reaching out to communities around the country.

In 1991, Rev. Spahr was called to be one of four Co-Pastors of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. The call was challenged because she was an open lesbian and resulted in the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (the denomination’s highest court) ruling that she could not serve the Downtown Church as a Pastor. The Downtown Church responded by calling Rev. Spahr to ordained ministry as their “Evangelist” for a new national ministry of outreach and education called That All May Freely Serve. Rev. Spahr served as Minister Director for 14 years and advocated for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the life of the Christian church, including ordination to church ministry and celebration of marriage.

A few of the recognitions for Rev. Spahr’s lifetime of service include a Martin Luther King Jr. Award for her work with Spectrum, a California State Senate Woman of the Year Award, and a Woman of Faith Honoree in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Rev. Spahr retired from full time ministry in 2007 and currently lives in San Francisco. She enjoys spending time with her family and continues to be an active member of her community and church.

Rev. Jane Spahr on Gay Marriage and the Church

  •     “I would think the church would be the first place to welcome and say ‘Yes’ to couples who wish to be married.”
  •      “Marrying these couples has been and continues to be such a sacred trust.”
  •     “My call is to be with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Can you imagine if I was told to not honor their or our relationships?”
  •      “I believe the church should be the best place to help and support couples to have a healthy, mutual and life-giving relationship. But for many LGBT people because of the myths, prejudice and judgment, it is the last place they think of to celebrate their marriages.”
  •     Some of these couples I have known for over 25 years, some for a shorter time, for some I have seen them raising their children, been with them in deep sorrow when a family member dies, been a part of baptizing their children and seeing them grow up, been with them in great joyful moments and very sad ones. They have allowed me to be in their lives in such amazing moments, imagine then if I could not be with them as part of their marriage, it would not be honoring who they are let alone the relationship we have built of friendship and trust.
  •     “Every couple who asks me to marry them, it is such an honor and privilege to be with them as we work together to create their marriage service. I meet with couples for a year, giving them homework to do! I believe we are given a scared responsibility to help be a part of a couples journey toward a life of deep loving and commitment.”
  •     “Churches and faith communities need to be present on this journey toward daring to love another!”
  •     “To turn my back on the love and lifelong commitments of these wonderful couples would have gone against the lifetime of dedication I’ve shown to my faith, the guiding principles of my church, and especially those I have served in my ministry.”

Media Contacts                                    
Susan Thomas, Media Coordinator~ (978) 604-4060; revjanesphar(at)gmail(dot)com
Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr~ Jane(at)Spahr(dot)com

Web site:
Facebook: Rev. Jane Spahr Trial Updates
Twitter: revjanespahr


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