At 5 years old I knew two things with a Kindergarten level of certainty- I wanted to be a pastor when I grew up and I knew that something about my gender seemed off. Though I did not have words for it at the time, I can look back now and say that I knew I was transgender. As I grew up with these two trains of thought in my head, a third certainty came from the conservative Christianity I was being raised in. The certainty that I had to choose between the two desires. God surely did not want me to be transgender, so if I was going to be a pastor, I would have to give up on embracing or sharing any of my feelings about my gender.
So that is what I did. I prayed for it to go away, and headed down a path towards ministry. I excelled in Bible classes at my Christian school. I helped out at church. But deep down I was struggling. I became very jaded about Christian belief. But I could not let that feeling show either. I joined my fellow students in believing about the dangers of the gay agenda. I could not let a crack show in my facade. I had to pretend to be the perfect Christian.
I did become less jaded as I encountered denominations different from my Pentecostal and Baptist upbringing. I ended up joining the Christian Reformed Church, because it was a denomination that seemed to care more about the history of Christianity, and it had a well developed theology for me to dive into and become passionate about. I suddenly had pastors taking me under their wing, and trying to mentor me towards become a Pastor myself. Under their encouragement I applied at a small Bible College-Kuyper College- in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When I was accepted, I also received a scholarship that would cover tuition, as long as I planned to go to Calvin Seminary and hopefully become a Christian Reformed Church Pastor. Since that was my plan at the time- I ran with it and accepted the scholarship. Repression for the sake of a divine calling seemed to make sense.
But as I got to be on my own at college, I let a few people in about the real me. I let them into the truth that despite 18 years of appearing to be male, I had a female gender identity. And to my shock, they stayed my friends, and some even encouraged me to explore and understand this part of me.
Yet what did I do instead? I made a last ditch effort for repression by joining the Catholic Church. Surely the rich devotional life and rigorous discipline of Catholicism would stop me from truly coming out.
Strangely enough that did not work. Instead, by the end of my Sophomore year of college, I began to truly come out- to a therapist, to my family, to my significant other, to the college community. Here I was, a transgender Catholic at a college steeped in the conservative Reformed tradition of Christianity. What could possibly go wrong? I knew I still wanted to pursue ministry, but I also knew I had to come out and start to figure out what it meant for me to be authentic.
So I began what, in retrospect, is perhaps my most important and formative experience- coming out as a Transgender woman at both Kuyper College and the theologically conservative Calvin Theological Seminary. This was a process that started in 2008, and really in many ways still continues on today. Even though I was coming out, and embracing my truth, I found myself more confused. What did it mean for me to be transgender? And what sort of ministry was God calling me to exactly? I struggled with both of these questions regularly in my life. Once I was in Seminary, my wife and I left the Catholic Church we attended to join a Lutheran church, where I could more openly work out these issues in my life. While at Calvin Seminary, I pursued a more generic Masters in Bible and Theology instead of seeking ordination. And at the same time I refused to let myself push boundaries in terms of fully expressing my gender. I could be open about it, but I did not want to scare people away, or get myself in trouble. I was decisively not doing anything.
Towards the end of my time in Seminary I began to once again feel that God was specifically calling me towards ordained ministry, but came up against some issues in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I was also worried that I had not truly figured out my own identity either, so I let the idea go to the back burner. However, I knew God was calling me to church ministry, and so I began applying all over the country at any Church that was open to a Transgender staff member.
However, God closed that door repeatedly and decided to teach me patience. Instead I ended up working full time in retail to pay the bills, but I was good at retail. So instead of thinking about ministry, I was thinking about a promotion to management. Once again desiring to teach me patience, God shut that door. I did find the time during this job searching to get involved in LGBT advocacy and education, especially in settings of faith. This helped me further develop my own ideas of my identity, and helped me realize the needs of the wider LGBT community.
As 2014 rolled around, I promised myself that it would be a year where I worked out those two truths in my life- that I was called to be a Pastor, and that I am a transgender woman. I finally began to confront my own gender dysphoria, and to begin the steps to transition to living authentically as female. At the same time I also began looking at seminaries, and at the possibility of getting ordained. I had connections in the United Church of Christ, so I began to consider pursuing ordination within that denomination. 2nd Congregational Church, a community where I had helped recently in their vote to become open and affirming, had a position open for a Youth Director. I took the risk of two part time jobs to see if God was truly calling me to ministry. The answer so far seems to be a resounding yes. So I have come into 2015 with a ministry position, and finally embracing the truth of my identity as female.
But where was I going to go to school? Did I want to leave to go to Seminary so soon into taking a call at a Church? I had heard a lot of good things about Chicago Theological Seminary, and I began to hear a lot about the online Masters of Divinity. I contacted a friend who was involved in the program, we talked, and I prayed. It all came together and made sense. I had peace about the idea. God was calling me to this program as my path towards ordination in the United Church of Christ.
I have a firm belief that God called me to ordained ministry. I have spent many years trying to figure that out. But what is the Church and what does ministry mean?
Even though I have spent time in a variety of denominations, I still have a healthy respect for the importance of an organized church. A body of believers who proclaim the good news that God cares for humanity, that God is love, and that our faith calls us to be transformative agents in the world. I believe that Chicago will equip me to do that transformative ministry. To be a minister means that I will be responsible to both provide spiritual guidance to a congregation, while also working with that congregation to fight injustice and reach out in to our wider community.
I believe that my journey as a transgender woman gives me a unique ability to do outreach.I believe that the fight against inequality is an important issue facing the Church. How does the Church truly leave the comfortability of the past to really become open and affirming? How do we help in fostering a society where transgender kids no longer feel the need to commit suicide because they believe that God hates them? How do we reach across lines of race, class, sex, age, ability, and identity to truly be a just society? I believe that the church needs to be a voice crying out against hate and injustice. I have experienced that the Church offers a unique template for showing the world how love and community should be done. I would see this sort of community building as being an important aspect of my ministry.
Another major issue that I believe is facing the Church is how do we truly create disciples, and not just cultural Christians. During much of the 20th century the Church was very comfortable with letting the Christian name become synonymous with the American culture of the time. I believe we are now seeing the fruits of this, as people are searching for a deeper faith. People have become disillusioned with Christianity, seeing it as a fake system set up to maintain the status quo. But the Church should never be content with the status quo. I believe making the shift to challenging power and analyzing our privileges is an important next step for the Church as a whole. I want to be involved in ministry as part of this paradigm shift.
It is my hope that I can pursue my education at Chicago Theological Seminary, and move towards God’s call on my life to be an ordained minister in the Church. I pray that God will use my story and use me to make a difference in both others lives, and in the wider Church.