M Barclay is transgender, queer, and uses they/them pronouns. They have also just been appointed as a deacon for the Northern Illinois conference last week.
“A visibly trans person who is an extension of the church — queer and trans people need to see that,” Barclay said. “They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.”
The United Methodist Church has appointed transgender leadership before, but the church has never had a genderqueer individual in a leadership position.
Barclay had a rough path to becoming deacon. After years of struggling with the question of pursuing a leadership position within the church, Barclay finally recognized that they were being called into ministry, and worked toward becoming the deacon they are today.
“I really struggled … about whether I was going to stay at the church at all…” 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.”
“I understand the rules of the church,” Barclay continued. “But here’s the truth: I’m queer, and I’m called to this. I tried to walk away.”
Barclay started their journey into a leadership position in 2012, when they were living in Texas and identified as female. They were also in a same-sex relationship.
“There was a conversation of 400 clergy in Texas about whether or not they could prove I was having sex,” Barclay said, according to the Panama City News Herald. “It was terrible. It was terrible.”
According to the United Methodist Church website, The United Methodist Church has no official position on the ordination of transgender individuals. The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, declares all people are of sacred worth but states that the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Barclay made it through the first round of interviews with the church, but the second board initially refused to even give them an audience, sparking a public debate. After eventually being granted a second round of interviews, Barclay was still rejected for the position.
Instead of giving up, Barclay moved to Chicago for a position with the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Now, five years later, Barclay has been ordained as a provisional deacon of the Northern Illinois Conference along with four other individuals on June 4th.
“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,” Bishop Sally Dyck said after the ordination ceremony.
“Likewise,” she continued. “I hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion. That said, M and the other candidates for commissioning and ordination are all a part of the church’s witness and outreach to people who need the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Barclay will continue to preach in churches and be a voice of advocacy for LGBT people of faith.
Barclay told the Huffington Post that, “to navigate the world as trans, queer and a pastor means a great deal to me because I know personally how much religion has been and continues to be used for harm against LGBTQ and other marginalized populations.”
“It’s important for me to have the opportunity as a pastor to condemn such spiritual abuse and to offer pastoral care, preaching and theology that encourages wholeness, liberation, justice and compassion, especially to those who are struggling to recognize themselves as beloved,” Barclay added.