After twelve years of hard work, M Barclay achieved their goal of becoming a deacon on Sunday.
Barclay didn't lack the skills or the work ethic, but the process was stalled for years because they're a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female. Now, Barclay has become a deacon in the United Methodist Church and it's a major step forward for both the church and the LGBTQ community.
In the Northern Illinois Conference where Barclay was commissioned, Bishop Sally Dyck told the United Methodist News Service that she hopes the church will continue on a path to inclusion: “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 was raised in a conservative Pensacola, Florida community and identified as a straight woman at the time they entered the ministry. After studying feminist theology and queer theory, Barclay realized they weren't straight and initially came out as a lesbian woman.
They initially struggled with whether or not they wanted to stay in the church at all due to its views on LGBTQ people. But, after much thought, Barclay decided to continue on their path.
“My faith was still there," they explain. "It was just really hard to imagine the church living out what I think God is trying to do in the world right now.”
Barclay first pursued ordination in Texas, but was ultimately rejected due to their sexuality. They moved to Chicago to work for Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization dedicated to the inclusion of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United Methodist Church.
During their time at Reconciling Ministries Network, Barclay felt ready to come out as transgender. Their candidacy for the clergy was approved, and Barclay was officially commissioned as a deacon in Sunday's ceremony. All new deacons go through a two-year provisional period, so Barclay will be ordained in 2019.
Barclay's appointment as deacon was accompanied by some controversy. Reverend Thomas Lambrecht, who manages the United Methodist group Good News (an organization that's against same-sex marriage or gay clergy) said transgender people should be "welcome" in churches, but shouldn't be given leadership roles.
“We would probably draw the line at leadership, seeing transgender persons as not qualified for leadership,” Lambrecht said. “It is premature for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to move ahead to commission M Barclay, given the present state of knowledge and the questions her commissioning will raise in the minds of many faithful United Methodists.”
Although Barclay has received their share of negative comments like the ones made by Lambrecht, they've also received an outpouring of support from members and allies of the LGBTQ community.
“How do I theologically and scripturally advocate for trans people? I’m invited a lot to preach on that question,” Barclay said.
Barclay will continue their work at at Reconciling Ministries Network and give sermons and workshops at Methodist churches. Although most Methodist clergy don't wear their collars every day, Barclay plans to do so.
“I feel very called to do that,” they explained. “A visibly trans person who is an extension of the church — queer and trans people need to see that. They need to see themselves reflected in the life of faith.”