United Methodist Transgender Timeline

I’ve created a United Church of Christ Transgender Timeline, but I would love to develop parallel resources for other denominations and movements. I have some lived experience around the United Methodist Church, so I thought maybe I would start there…

That said, I need your help to expand this list! This is a decent first draft, but I am sure there are more details to be added. In particular, the polity of the UMC, with Bishops appointing clergy to churches, means that many situations are quietly handled behind the scenes. I assume that there were earlier cases that were handled in this manner and I would be delighted to include them.

Please be in touch, if you have details to add to this timeline (corrections are also welcome)–or if you would like to help me create timelines for other denominations or movements.

Now, the United Methodist Church has been arguing over human sexuality for decades without resolution. Transgender experience has, for better or worse, taken a back seat in every way.

1968

United Methodist Church forms by merger of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren

1975

United Methodist Gay Caucus founded.

1978

Rev Sarah Flynn transitions and has her ordination papers reissued under her new name. After a leave of absence, she is appointed by Bishop Ralph Ward (Upper New York Conference) as an extension minister beyond the local church.

1982-1983

Reconciling Congregations Program proposed

1984

“Self-avowed practicing homosexual” language is added to the Book of Discipline. First Reconciling Congregations are declared.

1995

Rev Sarah Flynn ends her connection with the United Methodist Church (and becomes a priest in the Independent Catholic Church).

1996

Open Hands magazine, which emerged out of UMC communities and became ecumenical, highlights transgender experience in a special issue.

2000

Reconciling Congregations Program becomes Reconciling Ministries Network.

2001-2002

Church Within a Church Movement is founded as an alternative to continuing battles within the United Methodist Church, with an emphasis on justice and inclusion, including an extraordinary ordination program which would launch in 2008.

2002

Rev Rebecca Steen surrenders her UM clergy credentials after three years of scrutiny in her conference after transitioning from male to female.

2003

Ann Thompson Cook (Dumbarton UMC, Washington DC) publishes Made in God’s Image: A Resource for Dialogue about the Church and Gender Differences. See also her revised reprint from Many Voices, co-authored with Cedric Harmon (2006).

2006

Rev Drew Phoenix announces his gender transition, while serving St John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore, MD. Bishop John Schol handles the situation with care and professionalism.

2007

A complaint is filed against Bishop John Schol in regards to his handling of the Drew Phoenix case. The Judicial Council upholds Bishop Schol’s actions, since there is no UMC policy prohibiting transgender pastors.

2008

At the 2008 General Conference, attempts were made to prohibit transgender people from serving as United Methodist pastors. No action was taken as the General Conference asks the Council of Bishops to present a “Path Forward.”

2009

Rev David Weekley discloses his transgender history while serving Epworth UMC in Portland, OR, making national news.

2011

Violet Fenn becomes the first openly transgender board member of the Reconciling Ministries Network.

Reconciling Ministries Network launches a Transgender Extension Ministry, by vote of the board of directors.

David Weekley’s In from the Wilderness: Sherman She-R-Man is published by Wipf and Stock.

2012

Reconciling Ministries Network gathers the Transgender Extension Ministry for a retreat in Chicago.

UMC Social Principles updated to include gender identity (an several other categories) in the Preamble of “The Social Community.”

2013

David Weekley is granted dual covenant status with the Church within a Church Movement, joining their clergy roster.

2014

Reconciling Ministries Network hires openly transgender and non-binary, M Barclay, as communications staff–the first transgender RMN staff person.

Rev David Weekley is appointed to St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull, MA, by Bishop Devadhar, making him the only openly transgender UMC pastor on appointment to the local church.

2015

The Transgender Extension Ministry is renamed the United Methodist Alliance for Transgender Inclusion.

TEM/UMATI member, Transcender Lee, publishes Woman Incognito: Transsexual Without Transition.

2016

Rev Liam Hooper (UCC) hired as transgender organizer for the Reconciling Ministries Network.

Rev Kimble Sorrells (UCC) hired as Georgia field organizer for the Reconciling Ministries Network.

2017

Reconciling Ministries Network launches Trans-forming the Church: Blessed Bodies and Gender Justice featuring the Rev Liam Hooper (Parkway UCC, Winston-Salem, NC)

M Barclay is commissioned as a provisional deacon in the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC. The first openly transgender, openly non-binary person to gain that standing.

David Weekley’s Retreating Forward: A Spiritual Practice with Transgender Persons is published by Wipf and Stock.

Reconciling Ministries Network hosts Rooted, a leadership development conference for trans and gender-expansive Christians, in Chicago. (UMNS)

Alyss Swanson is commissioned as an openly transgender, provisional deacon in the California-Nevada Conference. Believed to be the first openly transgender woman to gain that standing.

2019

Deacon M Barclay is ordained as a deacon in full connection in the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC.


Sources include: Tranfaith pages (referenced above), RMN History, Affirmation History, Sarah Flynn bio, various personal correspondence. Big thanks to M Barclay for additions, corrections, and networking.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 12, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

2 thoughts on “United Methodist Transgender Timeline

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