The Uniting Church of Australia will continue to allow congregations to appoint gay and lesbian ministers, angering conservative elements within the church.

At the Church’s general assembly in Brisbane this week, delegates were asked to vote on whether to reverse or retain Resolution 84, a rule made in 2003 that allowed individual presbyteries to install gay and lesbian ministers if they wished.

A large majority voted to retain the resolution.

Rowena Allen, from the Church’s gay and lesbian group Uniting Network, said the vote sent out a message that everybody is welcome in the Uniting Church.

We’re feeling affirmed that congregations can make decisions with gay and lesbian ministers, and that’s exciting, she told Sydney Star Observer.

Some liberals had wanted to go a step further by having one national rule regarding gay clergy.

It will mean angst on both sides of the debate because it doesn’t give a clear answer one way or the other, Allen said.

It’s up to each presbytery as to whether they want to ordain gay and lesbian ministers. On the other side it says no congregation can be forced to take a gay or lesbian minister.

Allen hoped people wouldn’t leave the church over the decision. All we’re wanting is an inclusive space where everybody feels welcome.

Dorothy McRae-McMahon, a former minister who outed herself in 1997, told the Star she was happy we didn’t go backwards.

Even though we didn’t go any further we did hold the ground for acceptance, for diversity and for the possibility that gay and lesbian people in committed relationships could still be ordained, she said.

Of course I believe one day we’ll go further, as some churches around the world have done. But it takes time.

Around 100 conservative church leaders are reportedly meeting this week to discuss forming a new church.

A spokesperson for the group Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church, Stephen Estherby, said he had been rendered spiritually homeless by the decision, The Australian reported.

I would be reprehended if I started the first church of tax evasion, or the first church of wife-beating -¦ but the decision [to allow homosexuals to practise as ministers] compromises my belief, Estherby said.

We believe homosexual practice is wrong.

At the assembly, Uniting Church president the Reverend Gregor Henderson called for unity.

We have prayerfully sought to discern God’s will on this matter and I believe we have reached a position of integrity at this time that allows us to live in unity with our diversity, he said.

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