Queer, trans, and deacon: a reflection on being commissioned

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Guest post by M Barclay

In her book, The United Methodist Deacon, Rev. Dr. Margaret Ann Crain explains, “Because deacons are also ordained but usually do not do what elders do, we are challenged to think about ordination as identity rather than function.”

This understanding of ordination as identity deeply characterizes much of where my awe, overflowing joy, and gratitude come from this morning as I think about being commissioned as a Deacon later today.

It feels surreal. How can it be? When I decided to come out in my process five years ago in Texas, I knew and was assured by others there was a “0% chance” I would ever make it through. I came  to terms with letting it go – God would lead me elsewhere. But, I decided I would keep showing up to my call until the church said no. The responsibility would lie on the church. I wouldn’t take it upon myself to act on our discriminatory policies.

I will never forget the day my District Committee on Ordained Ministry took a dramatic risk (and paid a price for it) in Austin when they passed me to the BOOM after I declared I was in a queer partnership at the time. I thought my journey to ordination was going to end that day, but their courage and support reminded me that as faithful Christian people, we must always hold space for the Spirit to move and surprise us. Even when it seems unimaginable.

It has been a hard, hard journey since then. And I know the hard will continue. And the journey will continue to full membership and ordination. But today I’m holding space for awe at the way God has worked, has buoyed me over the years, through queer community, and real allies who took risks on me, and friends who are family, and churches who are be-ing the family of God. None of us go it alone.

I’ll be wearing my clergy collar after today – a lot. On most days, in fact. For sure there is a small element of “it’s been such a long, hard road, you better believe I’m gonna wear a collar.” But more so, its that being a deacon is embedded in my sense of self and identity. I have always been called to the intersections of church and society, to queer that bifurcation through word, service, compassion, and justice.

And my joy about getting to be commissioned today is yes, related to the long journey, and yes, related to the reality that the church is saying yes to a queer and non-binary trans minister (I could write plenty on that!). However, because we are discriminated against so heavily, queerness and transness often become the only lens on our places in the church. But we are all also more than our sexual orientation and gender identities and how the church responds to them. And in this case – my joy is that I get to BE who I have longed to BE in the world – a pastoral presence of compassion and justice exactly as I am, on behalf of the church. And all of this together, feels likes wholeness.

The ministry I will continue to do includes RMN and my church, Broadway UMC. But perhaps even more, I am eager to be a pastor to queer and trans people who want nothing to do with walking into a church on Sunday, but still long for someone to talk with or pray with or be with in their questions/hurts/wishes related to Love, Justice, Mystery, and the Sacred. So for them, I am eager to make myself known by wearing my collar on sidewalks and sitting on trains and running errands and going to work. And I am eager to wear it for the queer and trans kids especially, but adults too, who need to see their own identities embodied in an extension of the church. And even for those who will despise such a vision – I will wear it too –  because they need it in a different way.

There are so many talented and faithful people – LGBTQ and cis and straight – who are being commissioned and ordained this Annual Conference season. Some of whom I find my own deep hope for the church in their leadership. I don’t mean to be “me, me, me” about this – the call on all of us is about the “we, we, we.” It’s just that I’m amazed and humbled about the ways God works, and I’m filled with so much JOY about finally being able to live into a queer ministry in the ways I have longed to but have been kept from due to discrimination in the church.

There is so much work to be done for LGBTQ justice in The United Methodist Church. And I’m so grateful to be appointed to that very ministry. And the more queer and trans people the church commissions and ordains, the more pleased I am about the complex nature of being a UMC presence in the world. The church desperately needs queer and trans people – lay and clergy – and all the gifts, and experiences, and truths we have to offer.

I do hold a lot of complex feelings about representing a church that is discriminatory, about having to “flee” my home in the South to be able to thrive in the church, about the pressure to feel deeply grateful for being treated as an equal, and about the struggles to have my identity as a non-binary person taken seriously in the church. All of these I hold in the mix – with the joy and the awe – and they each inform my call.

This is the close of one chapter for me, and the start of a new. One I am thankful for. And – it is also true that both chapters are written in a book where the church I am a part of still claims me and my queer family are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

I believe with all my heart that God delights in every decision, every action, every change that leads us towards fully embracing the belovedness of queer and trans people. I’m thankful for every opportunity to be in the ministry of such holy work alongside Reconciling United Methodists.

Onward we go together. In faith. In hope. In pursuit of Christ who leads us in love and courage.

This post was originally published at rmnetwork.org.

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