The announcement by your priest-in-charge that he is transgender has resulted in our church taking a look at gender in ways that would not have likely ocurred [sic] in a previous generation. It is a situation that our society and culture are looking at as well, and in that the church ministers in the context of the culture in which we are placed, it is only natural that such a discussion will take place in the church.
--Bishop Larry R. Benfield
They may have "taken a look," but in the end they bowed to convention:
I have decided to dissolve the relationship between the priest-‐in-‐charge and Grace Church, effective February 28, 2014. This action will allow the priest to transition at a pace that might not otherwise be possible, and it allows the congregation to reflect calmly on its recent discussions and reflect on how we live out our call to mission in a broken world that needs our witness.
Note how The Bishop says that he is severing the relationship for the benefit of Rev. Fry? I don't think the concept of benefit means what he thinks it may mean.
Benfield reiterated, after meeting with the congregation,
The priest will now be able to transition without outside problems to worry about and the congregation can be refocused on its mission to work in the community.
Bishop Benfield ended by stating that the church could now "begin its healing process." I guess he thinks the church has been the injured party here.
The 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church stated that "people have an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Episcopal Church regardless of their gender identity and expression."
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of this church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified [by church law].
This does not, apparently, hold true in Arkansas. The bishop said that statement did not refer to transgender clergy who come out to their congregations.
The rector of Grace Episcopal's parent church, Trinity Episcopal Church of Pine Bluff expressed dismay at Fry coming out.
I am appalled by what has taken place at Grace Episcopal Church, but I understand. I am primarily appalled because the announcement comes as a shock and obviously without concern for the Episcopalians in our community. I think it might have been less upsetting if we had spent time participating in a discussion of what all of this means related to our unified witness as Episcopalians.
Grace is a loving group of people and I am sure that any error on their part is one of affirmation and love for one undergoing such tremendous changes in their life, such as their pastor is apparently undergoing.
--Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor
Note than supporting Fry is considered an "error."
Windsor said his church "upholds family values."
There are a relatively small number of transgender members of the clergy in the Episcopal church. They work in a variety of settings, some in congregations and some in chaplaincies or other similar settings.
This situation in Arkansas is the first time that the church in Arkansas has had a priest announce his or her transgender status to a congregation where that priest currently works.
Fry's letter to the congregation :
The time has come for me to share something with you that is deeply personal. This is not easy, but important journeys never are, so let me just say what needs to be told and invite you to join me in this journey.
My entire life I have known that there was something different about me and the way I felt inside. It has been like my inner self was out of sync with my outer self and so I have always experienced (to use a technical term) dysphoria. As a child I prayed that I would wake up some day the whole person that I felt myself to be on the inside. I need to tell you that after years of self-searching and therapy I have come to accept in myself that I am transgender. And now I need to be honest with myself and all those I care about which includes you. I am going to begin the final stages of transitioning and I would like you to invite you to join me in this journey.
There will be plenty of time for talking this out and for education but for today.... I am the same person you have always known. I will continue to be that person you know and, if possible, I hope to grow and become even a better and more whole person and priest.
Do not pretend to have all the answers because I certainly don't have them all either.
My hope and my prayer is that you accept my sincere invitation to make the journey with me.
- To accept the challenge to grow as an individual and parish
- To discover what transformations and transitions in your life are occurring and happening before our eyes
- To learn more about what transgender means and is, for many people
- To walk with me as I complete (finalize) the transformation that has been working on me from the day I was born.
I hope that you will walk with me in faith, so that together we can discover and witness to that Love we are called to be, and bring into the world.
Apparently the bishop was informed that Rev. Fry was transgender previous to Fry informing the congregants:
Dear members and friends of Grace Church:
For the past few months I have been talking with your priest, Greg Fry, after he revealed to me his awareness that he is transgender. I want to share with you my thoughts about what this situation means for Grace Church and Greg.
I have known Greg and his wife Lisa ever since we all attended Virginia Theological Seminary. I have respected and valued the ministries that they both bring to the church. In fact, I ordained Lisa as a priest as she began her work at St. Mark's Church in Little Rock.
The issue of being transgendered is not one with which many of us are knowledgeable. I have learned much since working with Greg and another transgender priest in Arkansas, as well as my encounters with other transgender members of the clergy throughout the larger church. It is an issue centered on a person's gender identity; it is not an issue of sexual orientation/attraction.
My hope is that we can spend our time in the coming weeks asking questions and becoming knowledgeable about the issue. Good and thoughtful questions always precede any decisions about long-term ministry.
I continue to value Greg's presence among all of you at Grace Church. he continues to be a faithful pastor. He and Lisa will be working on the next phase of their lives simultaneously with our working on learning more about this issue and how it is lived out in Greg's life.
--Bishop Larry R. Benfield
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