Lutherans install trans pastor
by David-Elijah Nahmod
A transgender person who runs a ministry for the homeless was installed last weekend as the spiritual leader at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of San Francisco, making them one of the few trans leaders of a Lutheran congregation.
The February 22 service for the Reverend Megan Rohrer at the Sunset district chapel, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ECLA, was well-attended.
The installation marked the first time a trans person has been installed as the lead or solo pastor at a congregation. Rohrer was ordained in 2006.
Congregants joyfully took part in the service, which included praise songs set to the music of the Beatles. Dubbed Beatles Mass, the lyrics were written by Rohrer, sung to the beat of well-known tunes like "Across the Universe" and "Let it Be." The congregation sang "The Meal" to the tune of "Hey Jude," in preparation for receiving communion. As the congregation sang and clapped, Rohrer held up the bread and wine for all to see.
"The worship that we used at the installation was created for an evening worship at St. Aidan's Episcopal," Rohrer, 33, explained. "In hope of attracting young people and those new to the church, I created a Lady Gaga Mass. The service gained a lot of attention, and I was able to share it at congregations around the country. Many of the young people knew the tunes, but the older generation had a difficult time. I created the Beatles Mass because the tunes were recognized by both older and younger members and participants often leave the service feeling uplifted."
The reverend, who prefers the pronoun they, has been opening doors for years. In 2006, Rohrer was the first transgender pastor to be ordained by the Lutheran church.
In addition to their duties at Grace Lutheran, Rohrer is involved in transgender spiritual outreach.
"I meet annually with a group of about 150 transgender pastors and faith leaders from diverse faiths at a retreat hosted by the Center of Lesbian and Gay Studies in Berkeley," Rohrer said. "We talk about how we can support and learn from each other, and the best practices for sharing our stories, advocating for trans individuals and our own employment needs. There may be many more than that, but some people choose not to be open about their transgender status after they transition. This is why I use the word openly transgender in my identification."
Transgender pastors, Rohrer said, serve a very special need.
"Many transgender pastors and faith leaders work in specialized ministry to support vulnerable populations," Rohrer said. "When it comes to faithfully serving LGBT individuals or the homeless, being transgender is often an asset. Very few openly transgender pastors are able to find work leading a congregation. I believe this will change as society becomes more welcoming and understanding of transgender issues."
Part of Rohrer's work at Grace Lutheran will be to continue opening doors.
"We take the name Grace seriously, so we will be doing outreach to people of all shapes and sizes," Rohrer said. "The congregation is enthusiastic about welcoming everyone, particularly those who have been lied to and told they are not good enough to be part of a faith community. We even want people who feel uncomfortable stepping into a church to join us for our weekly worship and "Bible Study That Doesn't Suck" livestreams."
Beyond work at Grace, Rohrer is involved with Night Ministry.
"This is a group of pastors who provide a presence on the streets of San Francisco from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.," Rohrer said. "The Night Ministry also operates a crisis line. The ministry is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and was founded by a group of Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist pastors who were working with homeless youth in the Tenderloin."
Rohrer added that the Night Ministry visits LGBT bars throughout the city and provides care and support to the drag court system.
Rohrer is happy to be a part of history.
"I am honored to be Grace's pastor and to be part of this historic new opportunity for transgender pastors," Rohrer said. "For over a decade I have been advocating and working toward a time when LGBT individuals would be welcome in the pews and behind the pulpits. Despite all my prayers, I never expected to see this kind of change within my lifetime."