He is the first openly gay person to take the post since the church was formed in 1925, and the first in the world to lead a major Christian denomination. He was elected to the position on August 16, 2012, at the 41st General Council of the church after six ballots, and was installed as Moderator two days later. He earned two degrees in English literature and became a sessional lecturer at University of British Columbia.
He received an honorary doctorate from the Vancouver School of Theology in 2012.
In an interview following his election, Paterson acknowledged that the United Church faced many challenges, but while in office, he hoped to bring inspiration and hope during times of change. Paterson currently lives in Vancouver with his spouse, Tim Stevenson, a Vancouver city councillor who, in 1992, was the first openly gay person to be ordained by the United Church.
Paterson has three children from a previous marriage.
Paterson served as minister at several rural and urban churches, became a staff member of the British Columbia Conference of the United Church, then served as minister at three churches in Vancouver: Ryerson United Church, First United Church, and his current church, Saint Andrew"s-Wesley United Church, where he is Lead Minister.