General Assembly Lifts Ban on Gay United Church Minister

The General Assembly agreed to lift a ban preventing a gay United Church minister from preaching as a guest in Presbyterian churches.

The special committee called the restriction “an anomaly,” which was placed on Rev. Darryl Macdonald when he was seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church.

Macdonald, now a minister in the United Church of Canada, grew up in the Presbyterian Church and originally sought to become a Presbyterian minister. He was certified for ordination by the Presbytery of Montreal when he was not in a relationship, and sought to accept a call to St. Andrew’s, Lachine, Que., in 1995 when he was in a relationship with a male partner. Several members of the presbytery appealed the court’s decisions to the General Assembly, the highest court of the church.

The 1996 assembly overturned Macdonald’s call to St. Andrew’s and asked the Presbytery of Montreal to reevaluate his certification for ordination.

The congregation subsequently severed ties with the Presbyterian Church and the presbytery revoked Macdonald’s certification. Macdonald appealed to the General Assembly.

A special commission at the 1998 assembly concluded that there was “a parallel” between decisions made by the 1996 assembly and the deposition a minister—a censure that bars him or her from exercising “any part of the office of minister.”

“Once the 122nd General Assembly had declared the actions of the Presbytery of Montreal ultra vires Mr. Macdonald was ineligible to be a minister of Word and Sacraments,” the committee said in its 1998 report. “The censure of the church becomes complete. Mr. Macdonald is ineligible to occupy a pulpit for any reason, within the bounds of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. This ineligibility cannot be overridden by a presbytery, interim moderator, or session of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.”

Macdonald instead joined the United Church—a denomination that allows non-celebate homosexuals to be ordained.

“It now seems that a restriction is placed upon Mr. Macdonald that does not exist for any other practicing homosexual minister of the United Church,” the session of St. Columba by-the-Lake, Pointe Claire, Que., pointed out in a petition to this year’s General Assembly. The church, where Macdonald served as a student intern, asked the assembly to “lift the edict not to permit Mr. Darryl Macdonald to occupy any pulpit of our denomination for any reason … and thereby to treat him as any other minister in good standing of the United Church of Canada.”

The commission struck by this year’s General Assembly agreed with the request.

“Accepting the petition removes an anomaly that only one ordained minister in a sister denomination is prohibited from preaching as a guest in one of our congregation’s pulpits,” said David Kilgour, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Ottawa and convener of the special committee.

The committee also suggested granting the petition’s request “does not question or reverse any decision of previous assemblies.”

Although commissioners spoke for and against lifting the ban placed on Macdonald, the court voted overwhelmingly in support of the petition. Three commissioners asked to have their dissent recorded.

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About Connie Wardle

Connie Wardle is the Presbyterian Record's senior writer and online editor.