February 25, 2016

In the fall, your Session received a letter from two members of the college of elders asking them to explore issues of welcome and inclusion: Is Westminster truly welcoming of all people who might wish to worship here? What would that look like?
 
In good Presbyterian fashion, we set up a committee of the Session that has been meeting, reading Scripture, and listening to each other. How might WPC be a place where all people - all genders and races, all ages and backgrounds and sexual orientations - feel welcome to worship Jesus Christ as Lord of all?
 
In the midst of that conversation about welcoming all to fully participate in the life of the church, we realized that there was something else we needed to talk about: marriage. In 2014, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a constitutional amendment to the denomination's Book of Order that would change the constitutional definition of marriage from "between a man and a woman" to "between two people, traditionally between a man and a woman" (W-4.9001). The presbyteries approved this change by a vote of 121-48-2. New Hope Presbytery, of which Westminster is a part, voted to affirm the change at its February 28, 2015 meeting.
 
As a result, each individual Session is left to determine what weddings take place in their sanctuary. At its February 21 meeting, your Session voted to enter into a season of discernment to decide if Westminster will allow weddings of two people of any gender. According to our present Wedding Manual, WPC only allows weddings of Westminster members, or family members with a strong connection to the church. This decision would not change that part of our policy. It would only pertain to our members, children, youth, and adults we have baptized and nurtured here, or their family members.

There is a list of the resources on our website that the Session will be studying, and we invite you to join us. The resources vary in type and offer a breadth of viewpoints- some arguing different angles on the question, some more balanced articles that attempt to summarize relevant scholarship. There are articles outlining the Presbyterian polity (governance) issues in play, as well as guidelines for when we interpret Scripture together. These articles will be discussed at a joint retreat of the elders and deacons to be held on Saturday, March 19, and at additional subsequent meetings of the Session.
 
As we read and study and pray together, we want to hear from the congregation. Every member of the church is invited to write the Session a letter sharing what you feel is important for the Session to consider. You may write an email to marriage@wpcdurham.org, or write a letter to the church (3639 Old Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC 27707, c/o Marriage Discernment). You may also request an in-person meeting with a pastor and an elder or two, which you can do by emailing the same address above. We will compile all of the letters, emails, and notes from meetings with you for the Session to read. Listening to the congregation's best wisdom and discernment is important to us. Your voice matters. We would like for you do this by Easter Sunday, March 27.
 
As the process unfolds, we covenant to communicate with you each step of the way. These steps will certainly include further study and prayer, as well as investigating potential changes to our wedding policies. We intend to make a decision before the end of the spring, but do not want to set a firm timeline for the Session's vote until we get further into the process of discernment.
 
One of your elders led a devotion at the beginning of Sunday evening's Session meeting, reading from the beginning of Acts, about how the disciples were "of one accord" as they prepared for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We understand that issues like this can be divisive, and that unity and uniformity are not the same thing. We also believe that diversity strengthens the body of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit teaches us when we gather around Scripture together.
 
Please be in touch with any of us if you have further questions about this process. The Session genuinely looks forward to the conversations we will have with each other and with you, the congregation. We pray that God might shape us, together.

 
In Christ,

Chris Tuttle
Pastor & Head of Staff

Sally Keener
Clerk of Session

Westminster Presbyterian Church
3639 Old Chapel Hill Road
Durham, NC  27707
(919) 489-4974