Van Kuiken receives privilege of call in UCC
Written by J. Bennett Guess
June 2004

Presbyterian pastor was first to face denominational rebuke for performing same-sex marriages

The Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, the first clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to face disciplinary action for performing same-sex marriages, has received privilege of call in the UCC's Southern Ohio Northern Kentucky Association (SONKA). The Association's action on May 1 means that Van Kuiken is free to seek a pastorate, and thereby ministerial standing, in the UCC.

"I am humbled and grateful for the hospitality and support that I have received by many of the members of the UCC as well as for the wonderful affirmation by the [SONKA] Association," Van Kuiken told United Church News.

Van Kuiken, a married heterosexual who was pastor of Cincinnati's Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, one of the denomination's "More Light" (Open and Affirming) churches, had his ministerial standing terminated by a lower Presbyterian judicial council for officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies.

However, on April 30, the PCUSA's Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Covenant, with jurisdiction in Ohio and Michigan, ruled that the denomination's constitution does not prohibit same-sex marriages and that the earlier decision "is reversed and the rebuke of Rev. Van Kuiken is removed."

The full text of the decision can be read at synodofthecovenant.com. Van Kuiken's case has received widespread attention by the secular and religious media.

After the higher body's ruling, Van Kuiken said, "A new era has dawned in the Presbyterian Church, a day for which we have waited and hoped. We are making room at the table of Christ both for our gay brothers and lesbian sisters as well as for those with progressive Christian convictions. This is truly good news for the church. However, it is with great sadness that I have decided to resign as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Cincinnati Presbytery has left me little choice."

Van Kuiken is now pastor of The Gathering, a group comprised largely of former members of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church.

In January, the Cincinnati Presbytery issued a ruling that "disapproved" of Van Kuiken's ministry with The Gathering "in any form." If he continues a pastoral relationship with The Gathering, the Presbytery said, it would consider his action to mean that he had "renounced jurisdiction of the church."

"Members of The Gathering have, themselves, been greatly traumatized," Van Kuiken said. "They have been suddenly uprooted from their church home by the Presbytery's actions, and now, instead of responding with compassion, this same Presbytery has ordered me not to serve them in leadership."

Van Kuiken said The Gathering is considering the possibility of pursuing congregational standing in the UCC.

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org