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United Methodist Pastor Speaks of Transgender Experience

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    United Methodist pastor speaks of transgender experience May. 25, 2007 A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom* A transgender United Methodist pastor has shared his story
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2007
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      United Methodist pastor speaks of transgender experience
      May. 25, 2007
      A UMNS Report
      By Linda Bloom*

      A transgender United Methodist pastor has shared his story with other
      members of the denomination's Baltimore-Washington Conference in the
      hopes of promoting a broader discussion about gender identity.

      The Rev. Drew Phoenix - formerly the Rev. Ann Gordon - spoke at both
      a closed clergy session and a general plenary session on May 24
      during the annual conference meeting at the Wardman Park Hotel in
      Washington. He is pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in
      Baltimore.

      "I was very grateful for the opportunity to be able to share my story
      and who I am," Phoenix told United Methodist News Service in a phone
      interview following those sessions. "I was very pleased at the number
      of people who were very honest in their reflections and questions."

      He said he has been undergoing medical procedures for the transition
      from female to male during the past year, with "a great team of
      medical people who helped me think it out."

      In his statement to the plenary session, the 48-year-old pastor
      explained that "last fall, after a lifelong spiritual journey, and
      years of prayer and discernment, I decided to change my name from Ann
      Gordon to Drew Phoenix in order to reflect my true gender identity
      and to honor my spiritual transformation and relationship with God."

      By sharing the story of his spiritual journey and relationship with
      God, Phoenix said he hoped the conference participants "will commit
      ourselves to becoming educated about the complexity of gender and
      gender identity and open ourselves to those in our congregations who
      identify as transgender."

      Phoenix, who was ordained in 1989 and previously served in the
      Bethesda area, said he joined the ministry because of "a calling to
      be in service to folk who are oppressed, who are poor, who are
      excluded, who are marginalized."

      Although he was named Ann and declared a girl, Phoenix said he always
      felt he was male and had trouble understanding "the disconnect I was
      experiencing between my physical, external self and my internal,
      spiritual self."

      "Fortunately, today, God's gift of medical science is enabling me to
      bring my physical body into alignment with my true gender," he told
      the plenary session.

      No church policies

      He had informed his bishop, John Schol, and his congregation about
      his decision to undergo the transition. Schol told United Methodist
      News Service that he, the conference cabinet and the congregation
      have approached the matter in a serious and prayerful manner.

      The United Methodist Book of Discipline has no specific policies
      regarding gender reassignment. "The cabinet and myself have done
      everything to ensure that the Discipline is being carried out," Schol
      said.

      Both Phoenix and St. John's staff-parish committee requested that the
      pastor be reappointed to the church as part of the normal appointment
      cycle, which begins July 1. That request will be granted, according
      to the bishop.

      Church members told Schol that under Phoenix's leadership, membership
      has grown and the congregation's financial situation has
      improved. "There is a spirit within the congregation that hasn't been
      experienced within a number of years," the bishop reported.

      More effective pastor

      Phoenix believes his transition is making him "even more effective"
      as a pastor and said his greatest concern "is that the congregation
      continues to grow and thrive."

      That growth, he pointed out, is evident at St. John's, located just
      north of downtown Baltimore. With a membership spanning a wide range
      of ages and backgrounds - including the first youth group and
      confirmation class in years - the congregation is planning to
      renovate its historic building.

      Phoenix is not the first transgender clergy member in the Baltimore-
      Washington Conference. In 2002, the Rev. Rebecca A. Steen decided to
      leave the denomination after controversy over her desire to return to
      active ministry after gender reassignment.

      She had sought voluntary leave from the conference in 1999. Prior to
      that time, Steen, who was then the Rev. Richard A. Zamostny, had
      served churches in three Maryland communities during a 17-year
      career.

      *Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
      York.

      News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or
      newsdesk@....
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