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PRESBYTERIANS ELECT MODERATOR OF THE CHURCH

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The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has an "opportunity to magnify our witness, to reflect our Christ and to become a 5 million-member community denomination by the year 2000," the church's newly elected administrative officer says.

Price H. Gwynn III, an elder in Steele Creek Church, Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday was elected moderator of the church's 202nd General Assembly by 605 commissioners, half of whom are clergy and half ordained elders.A layman son of a Presbyterian minister, Gwynn, 67, was inducted as the 2.9 million-member church's chief executive officer before some 2,000 people in the Salt Palace. On a second ballot, Gwynn received 322 votes or nearly 53 percent of the total votes cast by commissioners. Four of the other five candidates are ministers. The five received a total of 286 votes.

"My heart is full. We are Presbyterians. We are one, and we are going to show that this week . . . ," Gwynn said minutes after learning of the election results and being ushered on to a Palace Exhibit Hall stage.

A stole emblazoned with a cross, a dove and other symbols of Presbyterianism was placed around his neck, along with a cross representative of three denominations welded together to form the present church. In placing the stole, the Rev. Joan SalmonCampbell, Philadelphia, outgoing moderator, said Gwynn will have the "privilege and the burden of representing the Presbyterian Church at home and abroad . . . that Christ might be glorified and made more fully known."

In his speech before the election and at a press conference following the plenary session, Gwynn discussed the need for unity and recognizing the reality of Christ and his resurrection.

Gwynn, a runner, mountain hiker and a commissioner to the General Assembly in the 100th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church U.S., told the huge audience that many Presbyterians have asked him if the General Assembly could put aside its differences "long enough to make a cohesive witness to the world."

He said many have asked if people in authority in the church "are still in touch with their congregational life, with their roots? Are they functioning in a disassociated (way) from the rest of us?"

At the press conference, Gwynn, who was accompanied by a wife, Katherine, also a Presbyterian elder, said he believes that homosexuals are "children of God and are deserving of our love as they have his (God's)." But he said he doesn't advocate their being permitted to assume positions of ordained leadership.

"I think (the Bible imperative) is relatively clear that (homosexual) activity is sinful, but then all of us are sinners . . .."

Gwynn, who is chairman of the board of Presbyterian Hospital and serves on the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation Board in Charlotte, also shared his views on abortion.

He said he believes life is a gift of God and should be revered. He said all abortions are an indictment against society, but he said he can't find any simple, all-inclusive answers that satisfy every facet of problems surrounding abortion.

Regarding declining church membership, Gwynn said people must understand the nature of divisions.

He said, "I think we have staked ourselves out and indicated the kind of church we want to be. We want to be a worshiping, witnessing, serving community of believers in Jesus Christ. That is inclusive, pluralistic . . . and that very definition means we are going to disagree. It goes with the territory. So we shouldn't be shocked or upset. And what we must learn to do, of course, is to live with that sort of disagreement and keep it from digressing from dissent . . . to dissension."