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United Methodists Reappoint Transgender Minister

( [email protected] ) May 25, 2007 12:24 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - A United Methodist minister who has changed gender since being chosen to lead a congregation in Baltimore will be reappointed there, church officials announced Thursday at a regional convocation.

The Rev. Drew Phoenix told the church's Baltimore-Washington conference that he had gone through "spiritual transformation" in the past year, since changing his name from Ann Gordon and receiving medical treatment to become a man.

The denomination bans sexually active gay clergy but does not have any rules about transgender pastors.

"It is my intention and hope that by sharing my story that we commit ourselves as Christians and as United Methodists to become educated about the complexity of gender," said Phoenix, the only known transgender minister in the conference. "Each of us is a beloved child of God — no exceptions."

Phoenix, 48, has led St. John's United Methodist Church for nearly five years. His term expires in July, and one of the purposes of the regional meeting is to reassign ministers for periodic terms with churches.

Bishop John Schol said that the church's 50-member congregation was fully supportive, and that no objections were raised during a closed-door meeting of the clergy. St. John's, a church that describes itself as diverse and inclusive, has more than tripled its membership since Phoenix arrived.

The meeting was already scheduled when the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank, issued a statement saying it objects to any acceptance of sexual identity changes.

The group, which has no authority over the church, did not specifically call for Phoenix to be removed. But Mark Tooley, director of the group's United Methodist project, said a change in gender identity conflicts with "God's order of creation."

Schol, who periodically renews ministers' appointments or reassigns them, encouraged ministers and church members attending the annual conference through Saturday to discuss the decisions of church leaders with their congregations, and urged church members to pray for Phoenix.

"This isn't an issue. This is a human being," Schol said.

Although the denomination has no transgender policy, a minister from Baltimore quit the church after a sex change in 2002. Rebecca Ann Steen said at the time she would rather withdraw than "submit the church my family or myself to any more struggle."

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