“I was afraid we’d be everywhere or nowhere, but we are off to a great start.”

Those were the words of the Rev. James (Jim) Szeyller (Charlotte Presbytery), chairperson of the General Assembly Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.

His comment was made to committee members near the end of their first meeting since being named to the committee by the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008).

Reyes-Chow appointed the 13-member group in response to an action of the assembly, in which the Moderator was directed to “appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity and theological balance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following … including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

  • The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates.
  • How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition.
  • The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage.
  • The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children.
  • The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.”

Committee members know they have much to do in a short amount of time — less than a year — to complete their work and submit their report to the 219th General Assembly (2010). They divided themselves into work teams and began to identify initial questions and resources for their specific tasks.

Members also bring a broad range of experience and expertise to their work. Around the table are attorneys, a seminarian, pastors of large and small congregations, professors, and a presbytery stated clerk.

How the group works together appears to be at least as important as their final product.

“I want to see how this works — people with different views coming together,” said elder Katina Miner (San Francisco Presbytery).

Szeyller agreed. “If we can’t function as the body of Christ, it won’t matter what we come up with.”

Quoting the third-century theologian Tertullian in expressing her hope for the committee’s witness to the PC(USA), the Rev. Emily Anderson (East Tennessee Presbytery) said, “See how they loved one another and are willing to die for one another.”

The committee will meet again in June.

Additional members of the special committee are the Reverends Clayton F. Allard (Grace Presbytery), Earl Arnold (Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery), Margaret Aymer Oget (Greater Atlanta Presbytery), Tracie Mayes Stewart (Salem Presbytery), and William Teng (National Capital Presbytery); and elders Luis Antonio De La Rosa (Pacific Presbytery), Stephen L. Salyards (San Gabriel Presbytery), and Lisa Cooper Van Riper (Foothills Presbytery). Emily W. Miller (Shenandoah Presbytery) and Derrick Weston (Pittsburgh Presbytery) also serve as members.