CHICAGO — The Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church has commissioned as deacon a woman who identifies as “non-binary,” only uses the letter M for a first name, and prefers the pronoun “they.”
Sally Dyck, the bishop of the conference, commissioned M. Barclay on Sunday, along with three other women approved to serve as provisional deacons.
“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon M,” Dyke said in laying hands on Barclay. “Send them now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God and to equip the Church for ministry.”
While United Methodists have ordained those who identify as “transgender” before, Barclay is the first who doesn’t wish to identify as any gender.
“For me, once I was exposed to the reality of non-binary gender, it was for the first time recognizing who I am, and what made sense for me in how I carry my body, how I explain myself to the world and how I know myself to be internally. It’s certainly not man nor woman,” she told the United Methodist News Service.
Barclay, who enrolled at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2005, says she also came to the conclusion that she was a lesbian following her first year of studies.
“I really struggled for the next year about whether I was going to stay in the Church at all,” she explained to the Washington Post. “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.”
Upon graduation, she was hired as a youth director at a United Methodist assembly in Texas and sought to be ordained. However, since she was in a lesbian relationship, a debate ensued as to whether or not she could serve and if she was celibate or not.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained as ministers in the denomination.
Being ultimately turned down for ordination, Barclay went on to become the director of communications at “Reconciling Ministries Network,” a United Methodist group that advocates for homosexual and transgender causes.
Because she is not currently in a relationship, she was permitted to be commissioned by the Northern Illinois Conference, and again will face a review in 2019.
“I know it’s not particularly common in the United Methodist Church, but I intend to wear a collar every single day because for a person like me to navigate society in a collar provides some profound and urgently needed pastoral opportunities, particularly for queer and trans people,” Barclay stated.
While some United Methodists have come to embrace homosexuality and transgenderism, not all Methodists have departed from the Scriptures on the issue. The Free Methodist Church released a document in 2015 outlining its desire for fidelity to the word of God.
“We understand the fall of humanity and the consequent orientation toward sin and self that God, in Christ redeems and reverses,” it wrote. “Our identity is only truly perfected in Christ and cannot be fulfilled through sex or any other behavior or bent. Human orientation angles toward sin and self-fulfillment which, at its core, opposes God and correction.”
“The Church at its best has always sought to honor Christ and His word, not simply mirror societal mores back to the society in which it ministers. We are to be Christo-centric, mirroring Christ—His love and truth—in a fallen world.”