Barclay said they have received many messages from people opposed to their leadership in the church because of their gender identity. But Barclay has also heard from LGBT Christians, from the parents of LGBT youth and from supportive churches that seek Barclay’s input about a theology that embraces Christian teaching and queer inclusion.
The bishop spoke the traditional words as she placed her hands on the new deacon named M with just a slight difference from the way those words have always been spoken before.
“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon M,” the bishop said. “Send them now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God and to equip the church for ministry.”
Not “send him now” or “send her now.” “Send them now.”
That’s what M Barclay has been working for 12 years to finally hear.
Barclay, a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun “they,” was commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church is one of the largest denominations in America, falling behind only the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. The mainline Protestant denomination has been bitterly divided over sexuality and gender identity: Its official rules say clergy must either be celibate or in heterosexual marriages, and can perform only such marriages, but American bishops have ordained gay and transgender clergy before, and clergy have conducted same-sex marriages.
In the Northern Illinois Conference, where Barclay was commissioned Sunday [June 4, 2017], Bishop Sally Dyck said in a statement, “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. Likewise, I hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion.”
It was a long journey before Barclay got the chance to be ordained. Raised in a conservative community in Pensacola, Fla., Barclay said they identified as a straight woman when deciding to enter ministry. As a young woman, Barclay enrolled at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas in 2005.
A year or so of reading theology — feminist theology and queer theology included — helped Barclay realize that they weren’t straight after all. Barclay came out, initially as a lesbian woman.
“I really struggled for the next year about whether I was going to stay in the church at all. 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,” Barclay said. “My faith was still there. It was just really hard to imagine the church living out what I think God is trying to do in the world right now.”
Barclay finished seminary and went to work as the youth director at a United Methodist church in Austin. Giving sermons and participating in worship there persuaded Barclay: 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.”