A Letter to the Church from a Sister in Christ

To:   My Brothers and Sisters in the PC (USA)

After returning from my attendance at the WMC-09, I feel compelled to share this letter with you.  Although spending those three days with over 600 people who shared a love for mission and a love for sharing God’s good news was a real mountain top experience for me, it was also a time of great sadness and pain.

I have a question to ask of us all.  I am a Transsexual and I wonder if, as a Trans person, I will be welcome to join the dance and celebration of what God is doing in the world.  You see, as I sat in the plenary sessions, I heard the speakers talk of God’s love for everyone, and the call for us to reach out to those who are suffering and I wondered if they would include me—just as I am..

As we gathered in group and sang the songs of “mission” and God’s love, I felt as if I were alone and standing on the outside looking in.  I was surrounded by a gathering of hundreds and yet felt isolated and alone—as if I were watching the activity from outside myself.  Can I, as a Trans person, be a part of the going and reaching out?

I love the Lord and have been blessed by what God has done in my life.  I feel called to serve and proclaim what God has done for me.  I can feel God’s call to me deep in my deepest parts, to go and be a part of the mission of the Church.   I also know that God loves me as I am, as a Trans person.  God created me as I am and loves me this way.  I cannot change that part of me anymore than I can continue to live if I were to stop breathing; it is who I am.  The call to be my true self is strong and I need to follow the path, to allow my true self to be free.

So why can I not respond to God’s call?  Why can I not join and partner with you as we seek God’s will and to follow God’s will for us and for the world?  Here is the interesting part:  I have been there, I have been to the mission gatherings with you, and have prayed and worshipped and worked and celebrated with you over what God is doing through the Mission work of the PC (USA).

I have done mission on your behalf.  I have gone out when called.  I have come back and shared those times with you and have been thanked and praised for doing this work.  Thanks and praise I do not want, for I believe that I was responding to God’s call and what God has done in my life.

Yet, as I sat there while we gathered in circles to sing about God’s love and proclaim our love for God and others, I felt more and more separated from you.   I felt more and more alone because I felt I must remain hidden from you.  Those of you who call me friend do not even know me and I am afraid you will not want to get to know me.

Your lack of acceptance and compassion, traits you claim to have and desire to share with others, causes me to remain hidden and unable to truly be who I am.  I pray among those who claim to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I am deeply afraid of you, because I fear your ridicule, your scorn and rejection, and yes, even fear your hatred.

Even as we shared Communion together, I can only wonder if you would have allowed me at the table if you knew who I truly am.  I ask myself why, in the Church I have served and loved for so many years, can I not find acceptance and the offer of a place of peace?  If I cannot be home in the Church, then please help me!  Where can I go to be home?  Where can I go to answer God’s call and to continue to serve the mission of the church?  Must it always be this way?  Is there no hope for me?  Must I die to finally have the peace I seek?  Or can the Church be the place that will help me to be my true self and be a place of safety and peace?  Will you still call me Brother, or ‘Sister’, after you get to know me as my true gender?

Mary

AND A RESPONSE TO MARY from Pam Byers, Covenant Network’s Executive Director

Dear Mary,

Thank you so much for your letter.  We in the Covenant Network are grateful for your active involvement in the church, and deeply saddened that you question your “acceptability” in the church you so clearly love and serve so well.  The uncertainty you feel about whether you are fully welcome is a primary reason for the existence of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and we are committed to keep working until you and others have no cause to doubt that the PCUSA embraces you unequivocally.

You may not know that actually the Presbyterian Church (USA) has a minister member in good standing who is Trans, Erin Swenson, a pastoral counselor in Greater Atlanta Presbytery.  She recounts some of her story in this talk, which is posted on our website.

For a general overview of Transgender issues from a faith perspective, I strongly commend to you Justin Tanis’s Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith.

You’ll find a wide range of resources and testimony about transgender people on the Human Rights Campaign’s website. Many gifted Trans writers have contributed to HRC’s excellent “ Out in Scripture” resource. You can read about some of them here.

I’d finally point you to a wonderful sermon from our 2008 Covenant Conference, in which Barbara Lundblad of Union Seminary speaks by analogy to all sexual minorities including Trans. (Incidentally she specifically closes with a comprehensive invitation to the communion table.)

While you are right that there is still a great deal of work to do, I believe you would find a warm welcome, as “who you really are,” in many of our congregations.

Thank you so much for writing to us.  Blessings on your ministry and witness, and on your search for a church family that will indeed feel like home.

Faithfully yours,

Pam Byers

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