As a Methodist, I’m not quite sure what to think of this. On one hand, I feel folks need to be left alone to live life as they wish, as long as they aren’t trying to change my life, and they are contributing members of society (within reason, of course). If this is truly some church leaders doing what they feel is doing Christ’s work, then OK. Or is this social activism by some liberals within the church? One thing for sure, I am sure the reduction in numbers of members will continue after this decision. I have never met this particular Bishop. His predicessor, Bishop May, used his position to continually insert himself into the political debate (which may or may not be a good thing), and I was wondering how Bishop Shol would serve. I guess I got the answer.

I wonder if a pastor with a conservative bent would even get ordained anymore in the Methodist church, let alone become Bishop?

Transgender minister is reappointedPastor leads Charles Village United Methodist church
By Liz F. Kay
Sun reporter
Originally published May 25, 2007

A year ago, the Rev. Ann Gordon received her routine reappointment as minister of a Charles Village Methodist congregation.

Yesterday – after undergoing a sex-change operation and taking on a new symbolic name – the Rev. Drew Phoenix received another one-year contract to head St. John’s United Methodist Church.

“This is about more than me,” Phoenix said after the decision by the bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. “This is about people who come after me, about young people in particular who are struggling with their gender identity. I’m doing this for them.” [MBT: I guess to work with young people with gender identity problems, you have to have gender identity problems yourself? What does that mean for prison chaplains? Or ministry to the dying?]

The decision came after a 2 1/2 -hour closed meeting with Methodist clergy, as well an emotional open session with about 1,600 clergy and laypeople gathered in Washington. While Methodists do not permit non-celibate gay clergy, no rules deal with transgendered ministers.

“I am here to say today that as of July 1 Reverend Phoenix will be reappointed to the St. John’s congregation,” Bishop John R. Schol told the conference, which represents nearly 700 churches in Washington, central and eastern Maryland, and parts of West Virginia.

Phoenix, 48, talked to the group about both his personal experiences and his nearly five-year leadership of the 50-member church on St. Paul Street, which bills itself as worshiping “a radically inclusive God.”

“The gender I was assigned at birth has never matched my own true authentic God-given gender identity, how I know myself,” Phoenix said. “Fortunately today God’s gift of medical science is enabling me to bring my physical body in alignment with my true gender.”

The pastor said in an interview that he hoped to spark conversation about it “because I find conversation has been lacking.”

The congregation has indicated full support of Phoenix, Schol told those gathered at yesterday’s meeting.

There is evidence that the St. John’s congregation is healthy. Worship attendance has more than quadrupled, Phoenix told the conference. Financial donations to the church, known as stewardship, have tripled, and families with children have returned, he said.

His statements were met with applause, and some people rose to gave him a standing ovation. They greeted him with hugs and even tears afterward. [MBT: this is an intersting twist]

But representatives of a conservative Methodist group maintain that the matter deserves to be debated further.

“There should be some discussion. It’s a significant enough issue that it shouldn’t be slipped through,” said Mark Tooley, director of UMAction, a program of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

Concerns arose among clergy of the Baltimore-Washington conference, Tooley said, when they learned of the change in Phoenix’s gender through a statement in a 25-page document recognizing his legal name change.

In explaining yesterday’s decision to the conference, Schol said he looked at the Book of Discipline, talked with fellow bishops and other experts and “learned that there is nothing in our discipline that speaks to transgendered persons, learned that there is nothing in our policies or guidelines that speaks to transgendered persons.”

According to the Book of Discipline, to be a pastor, “the person has to be of good character, and faithful to the church and effective in ministry,” Schol said in an interview. Phoenix is all of those things, he said.

“I as bishop have reviewed all of these things and determined that Reverend Phoenix is appointable and there is nothing within the church that prevents Reverend Phoenix from serving,” he said.

St. John’s is a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization dedicated to the full inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If she was attracted to women as a female pastor, perhaps it is better if she beomes a man, for those who find gay pastors as a problem. I just am not sure what to think here. The Book of Discipline, which I am fairly familiar, really does NOT address this issue at all.

I am really curious what all of you think here. You do have a chance to really be heard, as I can forward comments along…

I think I have a friend on the council that probably voted on this, so I will ask around for some additional info.

***Update***

Evidently, there are some folks within the chruch who are wanting a legal review of this decision. The Baltimore Sun has some additional information.

Legal ruling sought on church post
Methodists seek to address issue of transgender clergy

By Liz F. Kay
Sun reporter
Originally published May 26, 2007
Local United Methodist clergy are asking for a judicial opinion from the denomination’s highest legal authority on Bishop John R. Schol’s decision to reappoint a transgender pastor to a Charles Village congregation.

“I think this is an issue we have to talk about as a church, and we have to decide what we think,” said the Rev. Kevin M. Baker, senior pastor of Oakdale Emory United Methodist Church in Olney.

UMAction, a conservative Methodist organization, has called for the General Conference, an international Methodist body that meets next year, to develop legislation to address this issue.

“I think instinctively most church people would say there are some theological problems with gender change, but they don’t know how to articulate the arguments, and expect the church to offer a teaching on the subject,” said UMAction director Mark Tooley.

“The issue of gender identity is not directly about sexual practice and really requires some different theological arguments,” he said.

During the closed-door discussion on the issue Thursday afternoon, there were two calls for decisions of law, said Wayne DeHart, the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s director of human resources.

The questions being asked by the pastors involve a clarification about whether transgendered people are eligible for appointment as pastors, as well as a technical issue of how a name change based on gender identity should be reported, DeHart said.

Under church procedure, Schol would issue a decision within a month, which would be reviewed by the Judicial Council, the Methodist equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court. Decisions of the council, which next meets in October, are final, according to the United Methodists’ Web site.

“The bishop has strictly followed church law and will continue to do so, as he understands it,” DeHart said. “I guess that’s what the essence of these two requests are – whether his understanding of church law will be upheld or overruled.”

Baker said this was the second time within five years that this issue has arisen in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

The Rev. Richard A. Zamostny took a leave of absence for a sex change and reapplied as Rebecca Steen to resume a post as pastor of a Methodist congregation in Rockville, according to news reports. But she later withdrew her application at the start of a hearing to review a complaint made prior to the debate about her sex change.

Baker wondered whether a distinction should be made for people who were born with ambiguous physical characteristics. He also thought there is a difference in the expectations for those who are members of the church and those serving as a leader.

“It’s not an easy theological answer. We need to have some discussion and come to some conclusion so we as a church can make a stand and have some guidance for both pastors and churches,” he said.

Part of the problem relates to improved science that allows such surgeries to be successful.

“Medical technology has gotten ahead of us,” Baker said. The church needs to proactively decide, from a theological foundation, “how to extend the grace of Jesus to all people, including transgendered people,” Baker said.

I’ll keep you posted!