RICHMOND, Va. -- A peace activist who supports the inclusion of gays in the ministry was elected to lead the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the next two years.
The selection of Rick Ufford-Chase as moderator was made as the church prepares for a fresh round of debate at its annual convention about whether to repeal a ban on gay pastors.
Ufford-Chase, 40, is believed to be the youngest person to serve as moderator of the 2.4 million-member denomination, church officials said.
He was installed Saturday as moderator of the group's 216th General Assembly, making him the first layman to hold the unpaid position since 1999.
"I am grateful to be elected moderator," said Ufford-Chase, an elder at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. "I've been dreaming about this opportunity for two full years."
The moderator is the denomination's titular head, presiding over the assembly and then serving as the denomination's chief spokesman and good-will ambassador until the next assembly, when a new moderator is elected.
Ufford-Chase won the election on the second ballot over the Rev. David G. McKechnie of Houston and the Rev. K.C. Ptomey Jr. of Nashville.
Ufford-Chase has spent 18 years serving on the US-Mexico border as a Presbyterian mission worker.
In 1987, he founded and continues to direct BorderLinks, an organization whose mission is to connect and educate people of faith on both sides of the border.
He also works with the Latin American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Guatemala, and he and his wife, Kitty, are active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which sends groups to such areas as Iraq and Israel's West Bank.
His church is affiliated with More Light Presbyterians, an organization working to allow gays into the denomination's ministry.
During the weeklong national legislative assembly, some officials will try a third time to repeal a 1997 provision in the church's constitution that prohibits noncelibate homosexuals from being ordained as clergy or as elders and deacons, offices held by lay people. Ufford-Chase has said he supports that initiative.