Saturday, Dec 6, 2008, San Francisco – First United Lutheran Church, a congregation with a vibrant past is once again in the news after ordaining a transgender pastor. On Saturday, First United Lutheran Church celebrated the ordination of Pastor Jay Wilson, a transgender pastor who is the assistant director at the Welcome Ministry in San Francisco.
Wilson was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) candidacy process due to his status as a transgender person even though there is no official policy against transgender clergy.
The ELCA bans gay pastors serving in the denomination unless they commit to a vow of celibacy. First United Lutheran became an independent Lutheran church in the 1990’s when the congregation ordained Jeff Johnson, an openly gay Lutheran pastor. The congregation prides itself on being a frontier church founded in 1886 that is still on the frontier of welcoming ministries.
Jay Wilson said, “Ordination means that I will be called by a congregation to serve as a pastor to the Welcome Ministry community. My interfaith pastoral care, teaching, and empowerment with the ministry guests will include the joy of Holy Communion, forgiveness, baptisms, and serving the church communities in new ways.”
Wilson is endorsed by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), a Lutheran credentialing body that is open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. This is ELM’s seventeenth ordination of openly gay or transgender persons since 1990.
Wilson said, “Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is being the church where church is needed today, creating justice and accountability rather than waiting for it.”
ELM’s seventeen ordinations are part of the changes shaping the ELCA. The denomination voted in 2007 for a “refrain and restrain” policy for bishops in the denomination when considering disciplining gay clergy in relationships. A recent draft sexuality statement to be considered at the 2009 meeting of the ELCA is ambiguous about the official direction for policies on gender identity.
“Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries recognizes Jay’s gifts for ministry,” said Lois Voss, co-chair of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. “While we believe the Lutheran church will change its unfair policies and someday recognize the diverse talents of people called to ministry, until then, we will model faithfulness to the Gospel and a just way to serve the world and each other.”
“We called and ordained Jay to the Welcome Ministry both in our congregation and on the streets as pastor to people living in our neighborhood who experience poverty and oppression,” said Rev. Susan Strouse, pastor at First United Lutheran Church. “As Assistant Director at the Welcome Ministry in San Francisco, Pastor Jay will be part of providing a faithful response to homeless people by providing hospitality and food, as well as referrals for housing, health care and drug and alcohol treatment.”
Wilson’s degrees include a Masters in Social Work from the College of St. Catherine/St. Thomas University and a Masters in Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Previously employed at the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living in St. Paul, MN, as a disability rights advocate, Wilson also worked with religious communities and diverse organizations on cross-movement anti-oppression, sexuality and gender identity, the self-advocacy movement and community access.