With the news of thatnew SCOTUS appointee, and the threat he may inflict on the LGBTQ community, I needed some good news to prove that the march is still going on and we are still making strides, and then I found this:
Bishop Sally Dyckspoke the traditional words as she placed her hands on the new deacon:
“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon M. Send them now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God and to equip the church for ministry.”
Notice the bishop didn’t say “him” or “her,” but used “Send them now” instead. That’s what M Barclay has been working for 12 years to finally hear.
Barclay is a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun “they,” and the bishop did the same when they were commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church.
Bam. The United Methodist Church is one of the largest denominations in this country, trailing behind the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, and while the more mainline Protestant denomination is still divided over sexuality and gender identity—clergy must be either celibate or in heterosexual marriages, and can only perform only such marriages—American bishops have ordained gay and transgender clergy before, and clergy have conducted same-sex marriages.
In the Northern Illinois Conference, where M Barclay was commissioned, Bishop Sally Dyck said in a statement:
“While M’s journey over the last few years has included gender identity, all of those who were commissioned or ordained on Sunday have been on some kind of journey that has brought them to new places of faith, life and relationships. Likewise, I hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion.”
M Barclay was raised in a conservative community in Pensacola and identified as a straight woman when they decided to enter ministry. M enrolled at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas in 2005. After studying both feminist and queer theology M realized that they weren’t straight after all. And came out as a lesbian woman:
“I 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 wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that. My 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.”
M did finish their seminary training and went to work as the youth director at a United Methodist church in Austin; it was there, while giving sermons that they still wanted to be ordained:
“I understand the rules of the church, but here’s the truth: I’m queer, and I’m called to this. I tried to walk away.”
M pursued ordination, in Texas, in 2012, while identifying as a woman and in a relationship with a woman. They thought that would mean disqualification but was shocked to get approved for the next round of interviews until learning that the next board refused to even meet with Barclay at all. It sparked a heated and public debate among over 400 clergy in Texas about whether they could prove M was having sex; not about M’s capabilities to be ordained, M’s training to be ordained, M’s desire to be ordained.
After a prolonged fight M got the interview but didn’t get approved, and then moved from Austin to Chicago to work at Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that promotes inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United Methodist Church.
It was there that M finally felt free enough and safe enough to not only come out as queer but also transgender. And M once again desired to be ordained, and once again, there was a kerfuffle, but this time they did meet with a local board that enthusiastically approved their candidacy for the clergy.
M Barclay was commissioned as a deacon in last week and, after a two-year provisional period that all new deacons go through, expects to be ordained in 2019. They are not in a romantic relationship now, so they are not violating the church’s rule that clergy can have sexual relationships only in heterosexual marriages.
Still, the march does go on, and we are still making strides, and we will not be defeated.