PC(USA) to ordain first-ever openly nonbinary clergy candidate

Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation located in Richmond, Virginia.
Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation located in Richmond, Virginia. | The Christian Post

A regional body of Presbyterian Church (USA) in Virginia will be ordaining the first clergy candidate who identifies as gender nonbinary on Saturday.

The PCUSA Presbytery of the James will ordain Jess Cook, who identifies as a nonbinary individual, at a ceremony scheduled to take place on June 29 at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond.

The Rev. Fred A. Holbrook, interim general presbyter and stated clerk for the Presbytery, told The Christian Post that Cook fulfilled the standards necessary for ordination.

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“Jess Cook preached and was examined by the Presbytery of the James on June 18, 2019. Jess's sermon and examination were approved and an administrative commission was designated to ordain Jess as a minister of the Word and Sacrament according to our [denomination’s] Constitution,” explained Holbrook.

The Rev. Sarah Nave of Covenant Presbyterian Church, located in nearby Petersburg and part of the Presbytery of the James, told CP that she was “thrilled” by the news of Cook’s ordination.

Leaders are seen here at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly.
Leaders are seen here at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly. | (Photo: Facebook/PCUSA)

“Our Presbyterian congregation in Petersburg embraces our motto, The Church Where Everyone is Welcome. We are a racially diverse church family of people of color and white, young and old, gay and cisgender, affluent and just getting by,” said Nave.

“We delight in offering God's loving welcome to all, and rejoice that our denomination has taken this historic step toward affirmation and inclusion of all God's children in the Body of Christ.”

The news was also celebrated by More Light Presbyterians, an LGBT advocacy group founded in 1992 that seeks to influence PCUSA on sexual ethics and justice issues.

“We rejoice that Jess’ visibility as a non-binary faith leader has already made room for LGBTQIA+ people to see themselves as image-bearers of the divine,” stated the group.

In a statement, Cook said that the recognition of nonbinary persons was important, claiming that “if worship is only ‘brothers and sisters’ — youth will simply opt out of church.”

“When we baptize, we promise to nurture them. We promise to journey with young people. I can’t find it stated anywhere that this commitment is conditional. We have an obligation to help LGBTQIA+ youth,” continued Cook.

The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, over the past several years PCUSA has become increasingly theologically liberal in its stance on LGBT issues.

This included passing a measure in 2010 that allowed presbyteries to ordain non-celibate homosexuals and changing their definition of marriage in 2015 from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman."

These denomination-wide changes have resulted in hundreds of congregations, including multiple megachurches, to leave PCUSA over theological differences.  

Earlier this year, Jamie Shupe, the first person in the United States to be legally recognized as “nonbinary,” announced that he had reverted back to his biological sex and considered non-binary identity a “sham.”

“To the children, I say: I understand that you are reluctant to take the advice of older people and would prefer to test things out yourself, but you can't walk this harm back. You only have one body,” said Shupe to CP in March.

“You only have one reproductive system. Please don't ruin it chasing the fantasy that you are something other than your biological sex.”   

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