According to the official rules of the United Methodist Church, the third-largest Christian denomination in the U.S., members of the clergy are required to be either celibate or heterosexual and married. But rules are made to be bent and broken. Having ordained gay and transgender clergy members in the past, American Methodist bishops went forward on Sunday and commissioned M Barclay as the church’s first non-binary deacon.
While Barclay’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,” explained Bishop Sally Dyck who conducted the ceremony. Barclay, who does not identify as either female or male, was commissioned in the Northern Illinois Conference after a years-long struggle to reconcile her identity and her faith. A year after first enrolling in the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas, Barclay came out, initially as a lesbian woman. Because the church remains divided over the issues of sexuality and gender identity, Barclay thought seriously about leaving seminary. “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.”
Having initially applied to be ordained in 2012 while working in Texas, Barclay was denied during the second round of interviews. After moving to Chicago, Barclay took a job with Reconciling Ministries Network, a Methodist faith-based organization that works to promote the inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming people. Once there, Barclay’s candidacy was approved and following the mandatory two-year waiting period, she will be officially ordained in 2019.
While many within the Methodist church continue to disapprove of the decision allow transgender persons to attain positions of leadership, Barclay remains steadfast in the struggle to encourage and support members of the LGBTQ community. “A visibly trans person who is an extension of the church — queer and trans people need to see that,” Barclay said, “They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.”
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