LTSP Entrance Essay

Family Background and Significant Events

The lack of religious focus in my family of origin and my gender identity issues would often predict one's rejection of God, yet I consistently found myself being drawn back to the church.

From an early age I sensed that I was different from other kids. At an age when girls were supposed to be "icky" and had "cooties," I was far more comfortable with girls than boys. Being transgender pitted me against all the authority figures in my life, especially my parents.

Being born into a military family, we moved a lot. Church never seemed to be a priority in our family, except to me. When we moved to South Carolina, there was a church halfway down the block. I wasn't aware of differences in denominations when I entered the Southern Baptist church on my own. I was so proud when I earned my nine month perfect attendance pin for Sunday School.

But then we got sent to Italy. Becoming active in Scouts, I decided to pursue the God and Country award. I got to serve as acolyte in the post chapel, so my parents had to drive me there. When we returned to SC, the local Scout troop was associated with a Methodist church, so I started attending services there and got confirmed.

In addition to hearing at church that I was sinning by being transgender, my parents made it quite clear that I was wrong to feel like a girl. There were several incidents of my parents shouting and one in which I was threatened with a visit to the post psychiatrist, which would mean even more embarrassment to the family.

Faith Journey, Sense of Call, Relationship to Church

After succumbing to the siren call of science, my faith journey would come in fits and starts, with a few upheavals along the way, ending with my finding myself and my calling in the ELCA.

As I approached college, science seemed a more reliable source of answers to life and I began to pull away from the condemnation of the church. Eventually I married an atheist and got wrapped up in the busyness of life.

After that marriage ended, my transgenderism bloomed again, but I met another woman who I thought could "fix" me. In the search for a minister to marry us, we visited a Methodist church that had a young pastor who insisted that we attend a few of the services there. We both liked the church and felt welcome.

As we became more active in the church, my faith returned. It was at a conference in which I represented this church that I first felt the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. Under the minister's guidance, my love for the Bible was kindled. Eventually I went on to become a Certified Lay Speaker and led the service several times. In the preparation of my candidacy essay, I located the minister again and we are still friends.

After another lengthy absence from church initiated by relocation, my wife was given a fatal diagnosis of ALS and we sought counselling from a Methodist agency. That reminded both of us of our faith.

After her death, I realized that I could no longer live the way others wanted me to live. I had to face my own reality and began my transition. I felt drawn back to church but the Methodist church was once again publicly stating that my "lifestyle" was not in accordance with the Scriptures. By then I was taking care of my mother and getting away to worship in church was not possible any way.

After my mother's death my brothers invited me to leave town, so I did. I moved to Charlotte where I had a few friends. One of them invited me to her UCC church. I felt welcome and comfortable there. But we transgenders eventually realized that we were not being allowed to serve in any capacity, even though half the congregation was gay.

So my friend and I decided to visit the church of a friend who was a Lutheran pastor. In addition to being welcomed, the whole liturgy and gospel-based sermon resonated deeply within me. We never returned to the UCC.

Unpleasant circumstances forced me to move again and a friend brought me to the Boston area. In searching for a church, I looked at the ELCA web site and contacted Lutheran Church of the Newtons (LCN) because it was listed as a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation. Within five minutes, the pastor, John Stendahl, called me and assured me I would be welcomed. He even arranged rides with other members.

Shortly after I officially joined LCN, Pastor asked me if I would consider doing an Adult Forum on Transgender 101 and how my faith and gender journeys were intertwined. Try as I might, I could not get the journey part on paper. Finally, on Easter morning 2010, one of those Divine 2x4s got through to me that I did not have a gender journey; I was just becoming the person God called me to be. After that, the words just poured out of me. And with that presentation, my fear of not being accepted at LCN was cured.

I began to volunteer to do things, like reading the Scriptures, and kept being accepted and even appreciated. And when I was allowed to assist with communion I felt completely a part of the church.

During Lent 2011, Pastor said something about communion being for the Baptized. I had no evidence that I had ever had a water baptism. I had discussed it with a couple of pastors before and they had pointed to evidence of the Spirit within me as meaning that I had, so I dropped the requests.

After considerable soul-searching and Bible study, I decided I had to stop taking the sacrament. Pastor Stendahl noticed immediately and we talked about it. On Pentecost, I was baptized. As part of that, I got to serve both communion elements to the Pastor, and an incredible feeling swept through me. In hindsight, I think this was when my call to ministry was sealed, but I did not know it at the time.

When I learned of the School of Lay Ministry, I "knew" I would enroll. There was a short sentence at the bottom of the brochure that forced me to ask about "rostered lay leadership." As it was explained to me, I felt the unambiguous nudge from the Holy Spirit that it was time to take the next step. During my discernment, probably influenced by my age and income level, I decided to pursue an Associate in Ministry path and was entered into Candidacy for that. My track change interview is scheduled for June 2014.

I became a facilitator for the Massachusetts Bible Society's Exploring the Bible series and was eventually invited to join the Board of Trustees.

In late April, 2013 I found myself developing new thoughts on my place in the church. As I discussed some of this with friends, the feelings intensified to the point that I realized that my discernment had restarted without conscious effort. I began to see that my contemplations were leading me towards a deeper commitment to God and the church.

Several weeks into my renewed discernment, I was given the opportunity to lead a Morning Prayer service at a retreat for the Synod's LGBT Inclusion Team, on which I serve happily. There were about two dozen people, including six pastors. When it was over, I had to confess that I was a "closet preacher." During a break a pastor told me that there were alternatives for lay people within the ELCA that could have me doing everything except administering the sacraments. I immediately felt the Spirit saying that I needed to do even that.

I talked to several people who had become "second career" pastors for advice. One suggested that I find a local seminary and try some classes before committing to full time study. One month, to the day, after the retreat, I found myself sitting in my first seminary class at Andover Newton (ANTS). I was still plagued by doubts about how God was going to work out the financial aspect of my education.

During a November 2013 Adult Forum that I gave on the Parable of the Sower, I did not get the usual level of participation, so finished early. I asked if people wanted to hear about the Parable of the Net; they agreed, so I spoke extemporaneously for several minutes. When I got home, I realized how close I had come to a sermon, so I looked up where that parable fell in the Lectionary and emailed my pastor that I'd like to preach that day. I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed. That sermon will be in July.

Early in 2014, I was encouraged to join Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. When I did, one of the people who welcomed me was one of the chaplains for the group. We shared our stories. A day and a half after joining, she sent me an email saying that she had just gotten her first call and that she had been on the regular preaching rotation at the Boston MCC and asked if I would like to take her place. After some deliberation and visiting the church, I agreed. As of this writing, I have already delivered two sermons and have two more scheduled. I felt comfortable being the worship leader - like it was where I was meant to be.

In the Spring of 2014, I attended a local dinner put on by LTSP. I decided to accept the offer of a visit to the campus. At the end of the visit, I knew that God had answered my doubts and LTSP was where I should be going.

Strengths and Areas for Growth

Being transsexual and having lived in both genders gives me an understanding of human nature that few have. Having been the target of hatred in the name of God, and overcoming it, gives me both the desire and the drive to minister to the disenfranchised, perhaps even showing by example that outcasts can come home. The hope of helping believers mature in Christ also compels me to consider some sort of educational efforts. As a certified project manager and professional web developer, I bring knowledge of technical subjects and a methodical approach to problem solving.

I have been in front of audiences, large and small, for more than three decades, so I am comfortable with public speaking. Having lived in many parts of the country, moving to serve the church does not frighten me. My experiences in sailing have taught me some measure of self-sufficiency. Throughout my life, I have often been sought out as a shoulder to cry on.

While I feel a deep resonance with the Lutheran church, I expect to learn much more about what it means to be Lutheran and Christian, and how to minister to others, especially to the LGBT community.

Reasons for Applying to Seminary

As I review the last few years of my life, I am firmly convinced that God is directing me to pursue seminary and ordination and I have committed myself to that end.

Reasons for Applying to LTSP

The Co-op Model being introduced at LTSP fits my life better than any other seminary. In addition to addressing the financial difficulties of attending seminary, it allows me to continue active service of the church with an even deeper level of commitment.

I believe that God wants me to choose LTSP over ANTS to encourage me to start over again – as I will have to do when I am called.