Congregation Embraces Transgender Minister

Rev. David Weekley tells his congregation that he was born a girl

The sermon the Rev. David Weekley delivered late last month to his congregation in Portland, Ore., took, he said, "more than half a century to write."

Calling it the most "deeply personal message" of his career, Weekley, 58, told his congregation that the man who had ministered to their spiritual needs, married them, buried their parents and baptized their children -- was actually born a girl.

"It was a little unnerving," the Methodist minister said about his Aug. 30 sermon in which he disclosed to his congregation at Epworth United Methodist Church that he was transgender.

"I was grateful for the day. The service began like any other and I called the message that day 'My Book Report,' because the congregation knew I was working on a manuscript but they didn't know what the book was about. That it was my history, my life story, my life in the church," he said.

When he finished his speech the congregation burst into applause.

Weekley is only the second transgender Methodist minister to openly disclose his former gender, and is but one of a small number of transgender clergy people ministering to congregations across the country.

Members of Epworth's 220-strong congregation have been "overwhelmingly supportive" and "took the news really well," but Weekley worries that his coming out could cause a rift in the global United Methodist Church.

"The congregation accepted it without question," church member George Azumano told ABC News Portland affiliate KATU-TV.

In 2008, at the church's general conference a motion to exclude transgender people from joining the clergy was narrowly voted down, but the body will meet again in 2012 and could change the policy, which could mean he would lose his ordination.

Weekley said he hopes to be able to educate other members of the church and act as an advocate for openness before the next meeting.

There is currently no law in the Methodist rule book, the "Book of Discipline," that disqualifies transgender people from joining the clergy, said Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, Episcopal leader of the Oregon-Idaho Conference.

Transgender Minister Comes Out to His Congregation

The United Methodist Church does, however, ban openly gay people in active same-sex relationships from joining the clergy and its ministers are not permitted to officiate at gay marriages even in states where it is legal.

"Methodist church law, 'The Book of Discipline' is clear that there is nothing that prohibits a transgender person from being ordained or serving under appointment in a ministry setting," Hoshibata said.

"There is no way to predict the changes people will seek to make to the 'Book of Discipline.' The global church meets in general conference every four years. The process to make changes is open and it's possible now that David Weekley has disclosed he is a transgender person, some people will want to change the law," he said.

With a salt-and-pepper beard and deep voice, there is little about Weekley's appearance that would indicate he was born a girl.

His been married 13 years to his wife Deborah, 60, and together they have raised five children, three from his wife's first marriage and two more they adopted together.

Weekley would not disclose his birth name, but said he was raised in Cleveland.

From the time he was a young girl, he was interested in playing sports with boys and dressing like a boy.

When he learned as a teenager about sexual reassignment surgery, he said, "I knew I had to go through that as soon as possible. From my perspective, I had no choice."

In 1972, he began taking injections of the male hormone testosterone. In 1974, as young woman, he underwent his first surgery, a phalloplasty to construct a penis. Three months later he had surgery on his chest to remove his breasts.

Ten years after beginning his transition, Weekley became an ordained minister.

But it took the events of this year, particularly a project he and his predominantly Japanese-American congregation undertook to study the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II that helped him decide to come out.

Weekley was further prompted to disclose his gender status to his congregation when he learned he would be receiving an award for an anonymous blog he wrote for Reconciling Ministries, an organization that ministers to LGBT community.

Transgender Minister Comes Out to His Congregation

Though he waited 27 years to disclose his secret to a congregation, Weekley said he did it in "God's time."

"The timing just seemed right," he said. "There are many people hurt and discriminated against and too often that takes places in the church. This is God's time to be talking about these issues."

His congregants are not the only people who have recently learned about Weekley's gender. He only told his children, aged 39 to 21, four months ago.

Though it would seem that some congregants would be upset that they bore their secrets to Weekley who withheld his from them, the minister says they are not angry and he doesn't believe he was dishonest.

"I never thought I was being dishonest," he said. "There's a lot of things people don't talk about when it comes to corrective surgery or medical procedures. Most people don't necessarily share everything about themselves."

Weekley said there is a message in his experience: "As a person of faith, I believe God creates people with much diversity. Doing his work means accepting all of those people."

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