That All May Have Life in Fullness - Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 216th General Assembly; Richmond, Virginia - June 26 - July 3, 2004 PC(USA) Seal

Arizona elder chosen as moderator

Ufford-Chase urges Presbyterians to 'get in the boat with Jesus'

  by Bill Lancaster  

RICHMOND, June 26 - Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, a 40-year-old border mission worker from the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, was elected moderator of the 216th General Assembly Saturday night.

Ufford-Chase will be the first Presbyterian Church (USA) moderator to serve for two years.

He apparently impressed the commissioners with his deep commitment to risky, life-on-the-line mission work.

Ufford-Chase founded BorderLinks, a bi-national organization that tries to connect and educate people of faith on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. He has served BorderLinks for 17 years.

  Rick Ufford-Chase, newly-elected moderator of the 216th General Assembly. Photo by Danny Bolin
Rick Ufford-Chase, newly-elected moderator of the 216th General Assembly. Photo by Danny Bolin

He has a bachelor's degree from Colorado College and entered Princeton Theological Seminary, but says he soon discovered that his call was not to be an ordained minister, but to serve in ministry as an elder.

Ufford-Chase also works with the Evangelical Center for Pastoral studies in Central America in Guatemala, and has been a co-moderator of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. With his wife, Kitty, he has been trained to serve as a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that has sent teams of "accompaniers" to Colombia, Iraq, Palestine and the U.S./Mexico border region.

"God can use us to transform the world," he told the commissioners. "I have found that fear and fulfillment go hand and hand."

He described how his young son wanted to slide down a rope from a high tree, and screamed the whole way down, until he was in his father's arms. Ufford-Chase said he realized the scream expressed both joy and fear. That's how it is to be in mission for Jesus Christ, he said.

"We are invited to get in the boat with Jesus, like those disciples," and take a risk, he said. "I want to be part of a church that says 'Yes' and gets into that boat with Jesus."

The new moderator told the commissioners how his home church enabled him to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a teenager. He said his experience of Jesus Christ took hold during backpacking trips with a young pastor and a confirmation class.

Ufford-Chase was elected on the second ballot over the Rev. David McKechnie, the pastor of 4,300-member Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, TX, and the Rev. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., pastor of the 1,800-member Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN.

On the first ballot, Ufford-Chase got 226 votes, McKechnie 166 and Ptomey, 101. In the second tally, 275 commissioners voted for Ufford-Chase, 186 for McKechnie and 40 for Ptomey. For election, a candidate must glean a majority of commissioners' votes.

Responding to a question from a minister commissioner about efforts to remove a section of the Book of Order that forbids the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, Ufford-Chase said: "I have close friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. This church should welcome their gifts. . Although it is quite fair for you to ask my opinion and for me to share it, if I am elected, it is not appropriate for me to advance my opinion."

He said the church must risk its life in mission. If the PC(USA) will do that, he said, divisive issues will fade into the background.

In response to the same question, Ptomey said: "I look forward to the time when this denomination can delete G-6.0106b from the Book of Order , but as moderator, my personal agenda must take a back seat. My agenda as moderator is your agenda."

In his turn, McKechnie said: "I want to uphold the standard of the church, because I think it is aligned with the church's theology and with scripture. I would like the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity to complete its task first. Ordination is a privilege, not a right, and this privilege is for the church to decide. I do not expect everybody to agree with me, but I will promise to represent all persons fairly."

Ufford-Chase was nominated by the Rev. Patricia Mason of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh.

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