The United Methodist Church has commissioned its first openly transgender, non-binary individual as a provisional deacon.
After a 12 year-long journey, M Barclay was officially appointed on Sunday as a member of the clergy by the Northern Illinois Conference.
While it isn’t the first time the United Methodist Church has ordained transgender clergy — in 2009, a pastor who had transitioned from male to female in his youth confided to the congregation that he was transgender — Rev. Barclay is the first openly “non-binary trans person” to become a United Methodist deacon, according to Reconciling Ministries Network.
The new deacon grew up in a conservative Florida community and initially identified as a straight woman. According to the Washington Post, it was only after studying feminist theology and queer theory that Barclay realized they didn’t fit the mold and came out as a lesbian woman .
Rev Barclay now considers themselves“non-binary trans”, meaning they do not identify as either male or female and prefers to be address by the gender neutral pronoun “they.”
Barclay, who initially struggled with whether to remain in the ministry due to its views on queer and gender non conforming people, currently serves as director of communications at Reconciling Ministries Network, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in church life.
“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,” Barclay said told United Methodist Church News.
The decision was met with enthusiasm by Bishop Sally Dyck, who said she hopes this will set a precedent and push the church towards more inclusion. She said: “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.”
Barclay’s appointment was not without controversy, however.
Reverend Thomas Lambrecht of the United Methodist group Good News — a group that seeks to maintain traditional church teachings on gender and sexuality — said it was premature for Northern Illinois Annual Conference to give trans people like Barclay leadership roles.
Most members of the group would likely maintain that people “ought to live in accord with their biological gender” he argued.
The United Methodist Church, one of the largest denominations in the United States, has no official position on the ordination of transgender individuals. But since 1984, the Book of Discipline, the church’s governing document, has prohibited the clergy candidacy, ordination and assignment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”