Lisa Larges was on the road to ordination until someone complained to the Presbytery court about a lesbian becoming a pastor.

She had graduated from a Minnesota seminary school in 1989. A Twin Cities committee certified her ready to seek a call. Her appeal of the objection went all the way up to the national church court and was ultimately rejected.

Now, nearly 20 years later, she once again has been cleared for ordination, this time in San Francisco.

On Tuesday the regional governing body of the Presbyterian USA church meeting in Richmond will consider the ordination of a lesbian pastor, a first for this large mainstream denomination.

She must successfully defend her position against the denomination's constitution, which stipulates all candidates for ordination must be either married to someone of the opposite gender or be single and chaste.

In 2006, the denomination's General Assembly affirmed its support for its long-standing dictum. However, it permitted local ordaining bodies to make exceptions.

The new latitude riled traditional Presbyterians who did not want to see gays in the pulpit, including many in the Bay Area. Tuesday's vote is expected to be close.

Up to 300 delegates will vote after hearing from Larges and the opposing Rev. Mary Holder Naegeli, a Walnut Creek minister and doctoral candidate.

"It comes down to whether or not a person who does not abide by our constitution can still be ordained," Naegeli said. "Our constitution hasn't changed. Nothing has changed."

Most of those questioning the church precept have been unmarried heterosexual couples, Naegeli said. Other challenges came from ordained ministers who left the fold, came out as gay and then tried to return, she said.

"We don't want the world to believe we're saying sex outside marriage is OK, because we are not," she said.

A clash over gay ordination and related issues has wracked mainstream faiths.

Some congregations have left the Presbyterian Church USA for the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

"Those things can get messy and traumatic," said Pam Byers, the executive director of The New Covenant, a San Francisco organization that favors inclusion of gays and lesbians in ministry. "Our presbytery has made great efforts over the years to remain unified."

The San Francisco Presbytery encompasses San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda and San Mateo counties and encompasses 80 congregations and 28,000 parishioners.

It includes suburban churches in three counties that balk at ordaining gays and lesbians, she said.

The movement of protesting churches away from the denomination has slowed over the past five years, said Larges, who heads That All May Freely Serve, an organization that helps gay Presbyterian candidates.

"Some of that is generational and some is just a shift toward more openness," she said. "The kind of groundswell some people predicted never happened."

If Tuesday's balloting favors Larges, she must in April undergo final trials including an oral exam. "She is patient," Byers said. "She is gifted. She is blind, but she manages to navigate all over the


Naegeli said she likes Larges. "She's a fabulous preacher," Naegeli said. "She connects well. And she's got a great sense of humor."

"The hang-up is, when a person is ordained, they are ordained for the whole (church)," she said. That includes presbyteries that do not recognize the rights of gays and lesbians to serve as ministers.

Larges laughed when asked if the pending debate worries her.

"I've been hanging around the church for a long time," she said. "I feel at peace about it. It gives the church another opportunity to do the right thing."