Youth Pastor- Trans Trailblazer?

When I graduated from my first round of Seminary in 2012 with a Master of Arts in Bible and Theology, I searched nationwide for any Church that seemed to be affirming of LGBT people that had postings. I applied in at least 5 different denominations, and probably sent out at least 70 resumes to Churches. I had a few interviews, but I have to think that for many of the positions, that having a transgender woman running a program was still a bit more than their churches were ready for. The positions were of various types- Director of Education, Youth Pastor, Director of Faith Formation, and many other titles. I was open to doing whatever God called me to do in a Church as I spent time discerning a call for ordained ministry.

But it took until last year for a Church to finally say that they wanted me. I had actually interacted with the Church previously, and had helped them in their process to become open and affirming. Now they had an opening for a Senior High Youth Leader. I applied and got the position, with the knowledge being out there that I was Trans and would like to transition to living as female before too long after taking the position. But I was so nervous. I wasn’t the extrovert like all the people I knew who received degrees in Youth Ministry. I just hoped that I would do ok.

Once it came time to discuss with the whole congregation my plans to transition, I became aware that (as far as I can tell)- I am possibly the first Transgender Youth Pastor in the country. There are Transgender Pastors (though more often Trans Men than Trans Women), and there are lots of Trans people who work with youth, but in all my searching, I could not find any one else who had gone down this sort of path.  That made it even a tad bit more intimidating. We have risen to the challenge, and I find that the Youth have been very receptive to my journey. In fact, I hope that the youth are learning from the lesson of me being authentic, so that instead of waiting till 10 years out of high school to pursue authenticity, that they can better figure themselves out earlier in life. I hope that they see that faith can bring life and not just judgement and pain. I hope.

But that does not mean it has not been without challenges. There is not really anyone that I can go to and say “how did you do this during your transition as a youth pastor”. Instead I discuss and pray and hope that I make the right choice. I’m confronted with challenges about what to do with Chaperones, or cabin set ups at retreats, or how to interact with parents and the congregation. It has been a challenge. But every time I feel down, God finds a way to help me get back up. Whether its kind words from my wife, one of the youth being awesome, or one of the staff members saying something encouraging. It makes a difference.

I hope this blog enables me to give you a glimpse into my journey, and into the challenges I face, as well as the joys I celebrate. Blessings on your new week everyone!

-Em

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