The United Methodist Church has appointed its first transgender non-binary deacon to the pulpit. Rev. M Barclay, who prefers they/them pronouns, was ordained by Bishop Sally Dyck as a provisional deacon of the church on Sunday.
Prior to transitioning, Barclay entered the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas in 2005. After studying the church’s theology, as well as queer and feminist theology, Barclay began to question their sexuality.
First identifying as a straight woman, then coming out as a lesbian, Barclay quickly faced hardships once they tried to become ordained in 2012. Because Barclay was dating a woman, an ordination board in Texas refused to meet with Barclay during their second interview round. Hundreds of clergy members debated whether to consider Barclay within the church.
“There was a conversation of 400 clergy in Texas about whether or not they could prove I was having sex,” Barclay told the Washington Post. “It was terrible. It was terrible.”
After moving to Chicago and working at a trans and youth-affirming organization called Reconciling Ministries Network, Barclay came out as transgender. Now, Barclay is ordained as a provisional deacon, and by 2019, they’ll be officially ordained once their provisional period ends.
“Every step of the way, I still wasn’t sure if this would ever happen,” Barclay said. “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?’”
Not everyone in the United Methodist Church accepts Barclay. Some churchgoers have personally contacted Barclay, saying that they should not hold a leadership role in the church because they’re transgender. But LGBTQ Christians have also reached out to the transgender deacon, looking to a trans and queer clergy member for support and guidance.
“A visibly trans person who is an extension of the church—queer and trans people need to see that,” Barclay explained to the Post. “They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.”
As the third largest Christian denomination in the United States, the United Methodist Church has grappled with LGBTQ issues for decades. While many Methodists argue that clergy should only perform heterosexual marriages, bishops have embraced and ordained LGBTQ clergy members, including transgender clergy. Barclay’s acceptance into the church sets a new stage for Methodist discussions, and it also gives outsiders a peek into the complicated politics operating behind the scenes of one of the most powerful faiths in the America.