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Weir Favored for Presbyterian Moderator

Times Religion Writer

The Rev. Benjamin M. Weir of Berkeley, a Presbyterian minister released last September after 16 months captivity in Lebanon, is running for the denomination’s prestigious post of moderator--and is regarded such a favorite that a prominent San Diego pastor recently decided to withdraw as a candidate.

“With Ben Weir running, all the sentiment will be going his way,” said the Rev. George Walker Smith, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church and a black community leader who spent 16 years on the San Diego city school board.

Smith noted that the Presbyterian Church (USA) mounted a concerted campaign for Weir’s release after his abduction May 8, 1984, by members of the extremist Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War). Local churches were urged to pray for the Weirs, and Presbyterians were kept abreast of appeals to the U.S. State Department for a negotiated release.

Weir, 62, had served since 1953 in Lebanon in relief work and other capacities, most recently as a Christian education consultant to the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Weir was an assistant pastor in an Oakland church and an Army chaplain before going to Lebanon.

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Weir was a late nominee for moderator. Last December, when the Presbytery of San Francisco was electing commissioners, or delegates, to the annual General Assembly to be held June 10-18 in Minneapolis, Weir and his wife, Carol, were grieving over the death of their daughter, Ann, in a bus accident in Egypt.

But in a Feb. 11 meeting, the presbytery voted a complicated series of five parliamentary procedures to reopen nominations for their three ministerial delegates. Weir was elected a delegate and then endorsed as the presbytery’s candidate for moderator.

The moderator, elected near the start of each General Assembly, presides over the rest of the convention and then travels throughout the country as a denominational representative until the next General Assembly elects a new moderator.

Smith said he told his presbytery that he would not run for moderator as a “black” candidate since there have been four black moderators in the past. “This is not my year,” said Smith, who is 55.

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The two other candidates for moderator are the Rev. Paul G. Moon, 52, a fourth-generation Presbyterian born in Korea who pastors a church in Huntington Station, N.Y., and ex-Californian Carroll L. Shuster, 69, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, Fla., for 13 years. Shuster was synod executive for the Presbyterians in Southern California from 1968 to 1970.

Weir began a weekend visit of Southern California on Thursday with the first stop at Hy-Lond Convalescent Center in Westminster where the nearly 100 residents had maintained daily prayer sessions for Weir and other hostages in the Middle East. Weir is scheduled to attend events at La Canada and Brentwood Presbyterian churches today and will preach at Sunday morning services at Arcadia Presbyterian Church. Weir will speak at a Sunday evening service at Santa Barbara First Presbyterian Church and spend that night with daughter, Susan, in Santa Barbara.

Confirmed Catholics, 13 and older, are being asked to fill out comprehensive questionnaires at the nearly 300 parishes of the three-county Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles when they attend Mass on May 3 or 4. It is part of a yearlong consultative process to determine priorities for Catholics in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, ending in a major convocation Nov. 1-2.

Msgr. William Barry, co-chairman of the project, anticipates as many as 1.7 million responses--and not just from the pious and ever faithful.

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“We do not intend to shut anyone out from the process,” Barry said.

“Lapsed Catholics, (and) even those who are not Catholics but who are married to Catholics and attend Mass can fill out this questionnaire. The archbishop (Roger Mahony) is very firm about having all the laity participate,” he said.


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