Md. minister is elected to top Presbyterian post

June 06, 1991|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

The Rev. Herbert D. Valentine, Maryland's favorite son at the national Presbyterian convention in Baltimore, won the denomination's top elected post yesterday on the second ballot.

Mr. Valentine, 56, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, is more liberal on the human sexuality issues sharply dividing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) than his two opponents for the moderator's job.

They were the Rev. Wiliam G. Gillespie of St. Louis and the Rev. J. Howard Edington of Orlando, Fla., a last-minute nomination. A candidate originally considered the front-runner, the Rev. John A. Huffman of Newport Beach, Calif., withdrew.

Mr. Valentine struck conciliatory notes before and after his election. He said he would continue to respect the views of those who have not seen eye to eye with him in the debate about sexuality and other divisive questions.

"I am going to be very open to the voice of God," he promised. "I hope I can discern it."

Mr. Valentine quoted an old friend and minister he considers his mentor who once advised him on how to deal with church members with hurt feelings. "If I have offended them, I apologize to them," he said. "If Christ has offended them, they have to deal with that."

The new moderator said he was confident that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which even after big declines has 2.9 million on its rolls and remains the largest of the Presbyterian denominations, can deal with dissent "in healthy ways" and channel it to advantage.

Both the church and the society it reflects are living in chaotic times, he said, and "people are looking for a place where there is stability."

Although he praised a 17-member task force's controversial sexuality report for challenging the status quo, Mr. Valentine refrained from supporting it in its entirety. He predicted that neither the majority's recommendations, which include approval of premarital sex and homosexual unions in certain circumstances, nor the more traditional minority report would be adopted in their present form by the General Assembly's 602 eligible voting commissioners. The nine-day convention has drawn about 3,000 Presbyterians from out of town.

On the first ballot, Mr. Valentine won 274 votes while the two opposing candidates had a total of 321. On the second ballot, Mr. Valentine received 304 votes to the total of 289 for the other two contenders.

As moderator, Mr. Valentine said, he must now refrain from taking sides as the debates and amendment process heat up during the next seven days of meetings at the Convention Center, Baltimore Arena and downtown hotels. But he said he was satisfied that the more controversial proposals of the sexuality task force had already generated "a teaching moment" for all Christian believers.

He said that after his election, he would continue as local executive presbyter during his one-year term as moderator and would stay in touch with his Baltimore office by computer as he travels around the world representing Presbyterianism.

After prayers at the General Assembly podium, Mr. Valentine was presented with the ceremonial cross and stole of his new office. Then, the Rev. Terry Schoener, pastor of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, gave him a gavel made of wood from both the Pride of Baltimore I, which sank in a tropical squall in 1986, and the Pride of Baltimore II. "This is a very powerful symbol for the people of Baltimore," Mr. Valentine said.

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