The United Methodist Church has made a big move toward inclusivity with the appointment of its first trans deacon.
M Barclay, who identifies as a transgender person and uses the pronoun “they,” was commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary clergy member of the United Methodist Church.
The UMC is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, falling only behind the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. While the Church officially bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving in the clergy, last year over 100 Methodist leaders came out as gay to challenge the UMC on its position. One of these women would later be elected as the Church’s first out bishop.
Building on this momentum, Barclay’s appointment marks a major moment in the UMC’s move toward full LGBT inclusion.
“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,” said Bishop Sally Dyck of Barclay’s appointment. “Likewise, I hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion.”
Barclay began to question their gender identity while studying queer and feminist theology at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2005. While they felt called to serve, they were unsure how their identity would mesh within the Church.
“I really struggled for the next year about whether I was going to stay in the church at all,” they explained. “I struggled with how much harm the church had done, not only to LGBT people but to other marginalized people. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that.”
After finishing seminary, they went to work as the youth director at a United Methodist church in Austin. After serving in the position for a year, they realized they still wanted to be ordained.
“I understand the rules of the church,” Barclay said. “But here’s the truth: I’m queer, and I’m called to this. I tried to walk away.”
Barclay first pursued ordination in 2012, but was struck down when it was discovered that they were in a relationship with a woman.
“There was a conversation of 400 clergy in Texas about whether or not they could prove I was having sex,” Barclay recalled. “It was terrible. It was terrible.”
After this unsuccessful attempt, Barclay moved from Texas to Chicago where they began to work at the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that promotes the inclusion of gender nonconforming people in the United Methodist Church.
It was there at RMN that Barclay came out not only as queer, but as transgender. Shortly after this realization, they met with a local board that approved their candidacy for the clergy, which was solidified in Sunday’s ceremony.
“Every step of the way, I still wasn’t sure if this would ever happen,” they admitted. “Even until the day of the service on Sunday. I was thinking, ’Is somebody going to run into the room and find a way to put a stop to it?'”
While Barclay won’t officially be ordained until 2019, they’ll begin to deliver more sermons and workshops at Methodist churches throughout the Chicago community, an opportunity that excites them.
“I feel very called to do that,” they said. “A visibly trans person who is an extension of the church—queer and trans people need to see that. They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.”