Interior of Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Prague.

United Methodist Church Appoints First Transgender Deacon Despite Inner Turmoil Within The Church

A transgender individual has been appointed as a deacon in the United Methodist Church, a mainline Protestant denomination that has made headlines before by performing gay marriages. This has caused a sharp divide in many members of the United Methodist Faith, one of the largest Christian churches in the United States. The church also has a large following in Africa. The church was founded on several tenants, including the work of John Wesley, literal interpretation of the Bible, and the belief that salvation is through faith in Christ.

According to the Christian Post, an individual named M Barclay was commissioned as a deacon in the Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and assigned at the Reconciling Ministries Network as the director of communications. M Barclay is an individual who does not identify as either male or female and prefers the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she.” Although the church has appointed transgender clergy before, M Barclay is the first openly “non-binary trans person” to become a United Methodist deacon. The appointment was made on June 4. M Barclay stated that they felt their appointment would serve as a tremendous outreach to people in the LGBT community.

“For so long, I’ve longed to be a pastoral presence in the world — and certainly you can do that without a collar — but we have ordination for a reason, and part of that is that I can publicly identify as a pastor now. I know it’s not particularly common in the United Methodist Church, but I intend to wear a collar every single day because for a person like me to navigate society in a collar provides some profound and urgently needed pastoral opportunities, particularly for queer and trans people.”

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The United Methodist Church holds no policy on the appointment of transgendered individuals. Bishop Sally Dyck, who leads the conference in the area that Barclay was appointed as a deacon in, says she feels this is a positive step for the church.

“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. That said, M and the other candidates for commissioning and ordination are all a part of the church’s witness and outreach to people who need the good news of Jesus Christ.”

In 2013, M Barclay announced she was a lesbian with a partner and has since stated that she believes gender and sexual orientation are two separate constructs.

“The church doesn’t want to be associated with discrimination. And I think the church recognizes that, especially after doing the harm that we continue to do, we desperately need trans and queer pastors to help people heal.”

A pastor reads from the Bible.
[Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

While Barclay is largely celebrated and supported locally, not all members of the United Methodist Church are happy about their appointment, stating that the appointment is non-biblical and not centered on fundamental Christian principles. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, the general manager of the United Methodist group Good News, which is against allowing same-sex marriage or gay clergy in the United Methodist Church, says that while M Barclay should be welcomed as a member, they should not be in a clergy position.

“We would probably draw the line at leadership, seeing transgender persons as not qualified for leadership. It is premature for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to move ahead to commission M Barclay, given the present state of knowledge and the questions her commissioning will raise in the minds of many faithful United Methodists.”

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