The United Church of Canada, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, has elected openly gay Rev. Gary Paterson as moderator, making him what is believed to be the first openly gay person to lead a major Christian denomination.
In Ottawa on Thursday, 350 voting commissioners at the general council unanimously voted in favor of Paterson's election as the church's presiding officer and principal spokesman. The vote was met with cheers and a prolonged standing ovation, according to The Vancouver Sun.
"I am so humbled by the trust and the responsibility you have placed in my hands," Paterson said at the announcement.
At a press conference following his confirmation, Paterson acknowledged the historic nature of his election. He also said he was encouraged by the way his sexual orientation had been a non-issue during the campaign.
"What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma or problem has not, within our immediate community here, been seen that way at all," Paterson told The Sun. "I see the possibility for so many young people who may still be struggling with their orientation being able to look up and see role models."
Paterson is married to his partner of 30 years, Vancouver city councilor Tim Stevenson, who in 1992 became the church's first openly gay minister. In 1988, the United Church was the first in Canada to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. The church's general council declared that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, regardless of sexual orientation, was welcome as members in the church. All members are eligible to be considered for ordination.
Paterson has been an ordained minister for 35 years and has three daughters from his first marriage.
Paterson won the election from among 15 other candidates, three of whom were also gay. The moderator is paid between $119,000 and $135,000 a year, according to The Sun.