The Presbyterian Church (USA) will convene a special assembly -- the first in the church's 214-year history -- to deal with churches and pastors who openly defy a church ban against actively gay clergy.
Alex Metherell, a church elder from Laguna Beach and delegate to last summer's regular general assembly, gathered 57 signatures on a petition from fellow delegates to force the meeting. He presented them this week to the church's moderator, the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel.
"It is with a heavy heart that I received the petition today asking me to call a special General Assembly," Abu-Akel said in a written statement. He then directed church staff to begin the process of recalling delegates.
Officials at the church's headquarters here had tried to discourage the special assembly. They said the $500,000 cost was too expensive at a time when the church needs to cut its budget.
Metherell said the church can no longer endure open defiance of its constitution, which calls for church officers to live in "fidelity in marriage ... and chastity in singleness." That language was added in 1997, and two efforts to repeal it have failed.
A handful of churches have said they will not abide by the rule because it violates their consciences. Metherell told the Presbyterian Outlook, an independent publication, that with further defiance, "the denomination will simply disintegrate."