June 7, 2017 at 10:29 pm #26230
The United Methodist Church has appointed a transgender deacon
The bishop spoke the traditional words as she placedÂ her hands on the new deacon named M with just a slight difference from the way those words have always been spoken before. âPour out your Holy Spirit upon M,â the bishopÂ said. âSend them now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God and to equip the church for ministry.â Not âsend him nowâ or âsend her now.â âSend them now.â Thatâs what M Barclay has been working for 12 years to finally hear. Barclay, a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun âthey,â was commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist …
Barclay, a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun âthey,â was commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church is one of the largest denominations in America, falling behind only the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. The mainline Protestant denomination has been bitterly divided over sexuality and gender identity: Its official rules say clergy must either be celibate or in heterosexual marriages, and can perform only such marriages, but American bishops have ordained gay and transgender clergy before, and clergy have conducted same-sex marriages.
In the Northern Illinois Conference, where Barclay was commissioned Sunday, Bishop Sally Dyck toldÂ the United Methodist News Service:Â âI hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion. That said, M and the other candidates for commissioning and ordination are all a part of the churchâs witness and outreach to people who need the good news of Jesus Christ.â
taff at the Northern Illinois Conference did not respond to inquiries from The WashingtonÂ Post on Wednesday.
[United Methodists call themselves the âchurch of the big tent.â But one minister is camping outside.]
It was a long journey before Barclay got the chanceÂ to be ordained. Raised in a conservative community in Pensacola, Fla., Barclay said they identified as a straight woman whenÂ deciding to enter ministry. As a young woman, Barclay enrolled at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas in 2005.
A year or so of reading theology â feminist theology and queer theology included â helped Barclay realize that they werenât straight after all. BarclayÂ came out, initially as a lesbian woman.
âI really struggled for the next year about whether I was going to stay in the church at all. I struggled with how much harm the church had done, not only to LGBT people but to other marginalized people. I wasnât sure I wanted to be a part of that,â Barclay said. âMy faith was still there. It was just really hard to imagine the church living out what I think God is trying to do in the world right now.â
Barclay finished seminary and went to work as the youth director at a United Methodist church in Austin. Giving sermons and participating in worship there persuaded Barclay: They still wanted to be ordained.
The Rev. M Barclay (Reconciling Ministries Network)
âI understand the rules of the church,â Barclay said. âBut hereâs the truth: Iâm queer, and Iâm called to this. I tried to walk away.â
In 2012, Barclay pursued ordination in Texas. At that time Barclay was identifying as a woman and was in a relationship with another woman. Barclay thought that would mean disqualification off the bat and so was shocked to get approved for the next round of interviews. But the next board refused to even meet with Barclay at all, sparking a heated and public debate.
âThere was a conversation of 400 clergy in Texas about whether or not they could prove I was having sex,â Barclay said. âIt was terrible. It was terrible.â
After a prolonged fight â Barclay eventually got the interview but didnât get approved â Barclay moved from Austin to Chicago and took a job at Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that promotes inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United Methodist Church.
There, Barclay felt safe coming out as not just queer but transgender. And there, after another procedural delay, they eventually met with a local board that enthusiastically approved their candidacy for the clergy. Barclay was commissioned as a deacon in Sundayâs ceremony and, after a two-year provisional period that all new deacons go through, expects to be ordained in 2019. Deacons in the United Methodist Church are ordained clergy who lead the churchÂ through preaching and leading ministries.
âEvery step of the way, I still wasnât sure if this would ever happen,â Barclay said. âEven until the day of the service on Sunday. I was thinking, âIs somebody going to run into the room and find a way to put a stop to it?â â
Barclay is not in a romantic relationship now, so is not violating the churchâs rule that clergy can have sexual relationships only in heterosexual marriages. The church does not have any rule banning transgender clergy.
Still, Barclayâs gender identity is a cause of concern for some in the church. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, general manager of the United Methodist group Good News, which advocates against allowing same-sex marriage or gay clergy, toldÂ United Methodist News Service that most people in Good NewsÂ believeÂ people should live as the gender they are assigned at birth, though transgender people should be welcome in churches.
âWe would probably draw the line at leadership, seeing transgender persons as not qualified for leadership,â LambrechtÂ said. âIt is premature for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to move ahead to commission M Barclay,Â given the present state of knowledge and the questions her commissioning will raise in the minds of many faithful United Methodists.â
Barclay said they have received many messages from people opposed to their leadership in the church because of their gender identity. ButÂ Barclay hasÂ also heard from LGBT Christians, from the parents of LGBT youth and from supportive churches that seek Barclayâs input about a theology that embraces Christian teaching and queer inclusion.
âHow do I theologically and scripturally advocate for trans people? Iâm invited a lot to preach on that question,â BarclayÂ said.
Now, as a member of the clergy, Barclay will continue the ministry at Reconciling Ministries Network and will give more sermons and workshops at Methodist churches, with one noticeable change: Barclay willÂ be wearing a collar.Â Most Methodist clergy donât wear their collar every day, but Barclay wants to.
âI feel very called to do that,â they said. âA visibly trans person who is an extension of the church â queer and trans people need to see that. They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.â
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So each morning this week, Barclay got dressedÂ and looked in the mirror. In the reflection, the new United Methodist deaconÂ saw what BarclayÂ had been struggling to see for so long: aÂ face true to their identity, with an emblem of faith around their neck.
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