Pastor welcomes church trial for lesbian marriage

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Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette

The Rev. Janet Edwards, who is facing a church trial by the Pittsburgh Presbytery for conducting a marriage of two women last year, has sent out invitations to the trial to be held Nov. 15 at The Priory hotel, North Side.

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Most people send formal invitations for weddings, but the Rev. Janet Edwards has gone a step further with invitations to her church trial for conducting the wedding of two lesbians.

"I feel such delight in having an opportunity to engage in the absolutely essential discussion that has to go on in the Presbyterian Church over the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among us that I really do want the church to come and join in it and witness it. I can't quash that delight," said the Rev. Edwards, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a pastoral associate at the Community of Reconciliation in Oakland.

Recipients are invited to the Nov. 15 trial at 9 a.m. in The Priory, a small hotel on the North Side. Out-of-town guests are advised of a block of hotel rooms with a shuttle to the trial, and that complimentary travel can be arranged. It further invites them to a "worship celebration and lunch" at the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Schenley Park. It concludes:

"Janet wants the world to come. Feel free to invite anyone."

"Wow," said Jerry Van Marter, news director for the Presbyterian Church (USA), who has covered many church trials and never seen anything the like.

"It's a real show trial, isn't it?"

But he was not surprised by the location. Trials must be held on neutral territory.

"The last trial I attended was in a hotel ballroom near the San Francisco airport," he said.

Both the Rev. Jim Mead, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, and Jay Lewis, stated clerk to the presbytery, declined comment.

Trials are normally open to the public. They resemble civil trials with testimony and cross-examination. But there are multiple judges, typically seven or nine clergy and elders, Mr. Van Marter said.

Once testimony ends, the proceedings are closed as the judges deliberate.

Rulings are typically issued within days. Either side can appeal to the regional and then the national level.

The Rev. Edwards, 56, faces charges for a marriage ceremony she celebrated in June 2005. The denomination's high court has said that clergy in the Presbyterian Church (USA) may bless same-sex couples as long as the ceremony does not resemble a marriage liturgy.

But the Rev. Edwards has been clear that she celebrated a marriage. She argues that there is no ban on same-sex marriage ceremonies because the ruling said clergy "should not" conduct them -- language she believes falls short of a prohibition.

The Rev. Edwards, a former moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery, has been an activist for gay people in the church since her ordination in 1977. She said she was inspired by the long, devoted relationship between a beloved uncle and his partner.

She will plead "not guilty." If she is convicted, penalties could range from a reprimand to removal from ministry.

While the Rev. Edwards said she would be crushed to lose her Presbyterian clergy credentials, she admits she has a freedom that many clergy lack.

An heiress married to a physician, she is a descendant of the founder of what is now National City bank, and of a silent partner in the founding of Standard Oil. In addition, the congregation she serves is supportive of her efforts and is affiliated with five denominations, one of which officially affirms same-sex marriage.

"I know that my situation is not the same as my colleagues," she said, noting that she doesn't have to worry about poverty. She said she is reminded of Mordecai's words to the biblical heroine Esther, who was chosen to be a queen of Persia at a time when Jews faced genocide.

"He said that perhaps it was for this very moment that you were brought to the position you are in. I very much feel that the circumstances of my life -- both my economic circumstances and the fact that my children are now grown -- have all configured to have me step forward at this moment," she said.


Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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