For Downtown United Presbyterian Church, the situation was fairly straightforward. The Rochester, New York congregation was looking for a co-pastor, and members felt Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was the most qualified candidate.
The case has become anything but simple. Conservatives in Downtown Church's presbytery filed a complaint against the validity of Spahr's call to the pulpit, claiming that her sexuality - she openly acknowledges that she is in a committed relationship with another woman - prevents her from serving as a pastor.
Even on the narrow grounds of Presbyterian church law, Spahr's case is far from open and shut. Last summer the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) failed to accept a report on human sexuality that called for, among other things, the ordination of gays and lesbians. And a 1978 church policy expressly prohibits ordaining homosexuals. But when the policy was passed, a clause was added to explicitly forbid the use of the regulation "to affect negatively the ordination rights" of those ordained before 1978. Spahr became a minister in 1974.
Regardless of the result of Spahr's May 19 hearing, her case - and the issue of the role of homosexuals in the church - will likely reverberate through the denomination for some time to come; the expected appeal process could take as long as a year. In addition, this summer's general assembly will consider a proposal to discipline "More Light" congregations that have come out in support of gay and lesbian people, an overture to altogether ban homosexuals from the church, and a report from the denomination's theology and worship committee on how the Presbyterian church should proceed on the issue of sexuality.