United Methodist Pastor Speaks of Transgender Experience
- 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
"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,
"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
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
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or