United Methodist Church commissions first non-binary trans person as a Deacon

by Alison Amyx

Chicago – The first openly non-binary trans person was commissioned as a deacon in The United Methodist Church (The UMC) on Sunday, June 4th in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. Rev. M Barclay, who uses singular they pronouns, is appointed by Bishop Sally Dyck to serve as a deacon at Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). RMN advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in The UMC.

M has been in the ordination process since 2006, initially responding to a call to ministry before they came out as queer or trans, never imagining that the discriminatory policies of the denomination would become so personal. In 2013, after coming out in their process as queer, M faced discrimination from their Board of Ordained Ministry in Texas that led to two Judicial Council rulings—a body that functions as the Supreme Court of The UMC.

“As a queer and trans minister, I am now able to be my whole self, in all of the ways that matter to me most, and all the ways God calls me to pastoral service in the world. While queer and especially trans people continue to be targeted within our faith communities and society at large, it’s vital the church recognize and empower us to live out our God-given callings. The world is in desperate need of ministries of love, justice, and compassion and it’s a shame so much of our energy is instead used to battle our own discrimination in the church. I’m thankful my Annual Conference has chosen instead to prioritize ministry with the marginalized,” stated Rev. Barclay.

Although the policies within The UMC dictate that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be clergy, nearly 150 LGBTQ clergy have come out in the last year. The Northern Illinois Board of Ordained Ministry is among a number of conference boards who have committed to evaluate candidates based on their readiness for ministry, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jan Lawrence, the Interim Executive Director of RMN, explains the importance of the church recognizing and affirming the ministry of queer and trans people despite the policies that have been in place since 1972:

“RMN celebrates M’s commissioning as yet another sign that the church is headed in the direction of justice and inclusion. God blesses us all with gifts to serve the church and that blessing knows no sexual orientation nor gender identity. We keep working for the day when the entire church embraces the gifts and graces of every LGBTQ person called to ministry to the benefit of all in The United Methodist Church.”

Rev. Barclay’s ministry is largely focused on the queer and trans community, providing spiritual care to those who cannot turn to the church for a pastoral presence, and working with allies who are committed to making the church a true sanctuary for the marginalized. As a commissioned deacon and provisional member of The UMC, M’s process to full ordination continues post commissioning and will be evaluated once more in 2019.

Photo by Rev. Britt Cox