United Methodist court recognises transgender pastor's appointment

By staff writers
November 1, 2007

The US United Methodist Church's legislative body has upheld a bishop's decision that a pastor who changed gender from female to male remains eligible to serve the church, in a move welcomed by those supporting transgender persons.

In combining two separate items related to the Rev Drew Phoenix, pastor at St John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore, the UMC judicial council said that it was not ruling on the transgender question per se, but on the issue that "a clergyperson's standing cannot be terminated without administrative or juridical action having occurred and all fair process being accorded."

"The adjective (in this case, 'transgender') placed in front of the noun 'clergyperson' does not matter," the court stated in its decision. "What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed without being accorded fair process."

Because Phoenix is a clergy member in good standing, the ruling means Phoenix will continue to serve his church. But the subject of whether transgender clergy are eligible for appointment is likely to be among issues debated when the church's General Conference convenes in April 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The United Methodist Church still bars practicing homosexuals from being ordained but has nothing in its polity about transgender persons.

During the 2007 executive clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, a change of name was recorded for Phoenix, from the Rev Ann Gordon, who was ordained in 1989 and had led the St. John's congregation for five years.

Bishop John R. Schol confirmed that, following surgery and hormone therapy, the pastor had changed gender and adopted a new name.

Two requests were made for a bishop's decision of law: one on a technical question about how to categorize the pastor's name change for the conference's Board of Ordained Ministry, and the other on whether a transgender person is eligible for appointment in The United Methodist Church.

Bishop Schol said there is nothing in the church's polity that prevents a transgender person from serving as a pastor, and that the name change was handled correctly.

The council would not take jurisdiction in challenges to three Northern Illinois Annual Conference resolutions affirming inclusiveness in the church.

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