They will lead one of the church's 65 synods, overseeing nearly 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Saturday installed its first openly transgender bishop in a service held in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. The Reverend Megan Rohrer, who uses the pronouns they and them, will lead one of the church's 65 synods, overseeing nearly 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada. "My call is... to be up to the same messy, loving things I was up to before," Rohrer told worshippers, reports NPR. "But mostly, if you'll let me, and I think you will, my hope is to love you and beyond that, to love what you love."
As we previously reported, Rev. Rohrer—who previously broke new ground when they became the first transgender pastor in the Lutheran church—was elected May 8 to lead the synod for a six-year term. "It's humbling," Rev. Rohrer said at the time. "It's inspiring. And I think I'm very aware that this call is bigger than me -- that it's about serving God, and it's about... a place in history that means a lot to a lot of people." Their new role, they added, involves being the "pastor of the pastors and cheerleader of almost 200 congregations."
In a written statement to Religion News Service, Rev. Rohrer said: "It's an honor to be called to serve the Sierra Pacific Synod. During this time when some imagine trans people at their worst, Lutherans have once again declared that transgender people are beautiful children of God. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for me and my family as I accept this call." They previously served as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and a chaplain coordinator for the city's police department and also helped the city's homeless and LGBTQ+ communities in various ways, including the creation of programmes to provide groceries to HIV+ people.
"I step into this role because a diverse community of Lutherans in Northern California and Nevada prayerfully and thoughtfully voted to do a historic thing," the bishop said in a statement, reports Sky News. "My installation will celebrate all that is possible when we trust God to shepherd us forward." Speaking to Cosmopolitan in 2018, Rev. Rohrer revealed that it was the "religious abuse" they faced while growing up trans in South Dakota that motivated them to study religion in college. "You can imagine it's not the most fun place to figure out you're trans," they said. "The amount of religious abuse that people spoke near me and around me was enough to make me study religion."
Rev. Rohrer was ordained in 2006—a time when the ELCA did not allow LGBTQ pastors to serve openly—and was formally recognized as a Lutheran pastor in 2010 after the church's policies changed. It was the church's emphasis on serving the poor and advocating for community-based change that drew them to it, they explained. "Most people's feelings about gay and lesbian and trans people aren't rational, and maybe as I've matured as a pastor, I've figured out that it's feelings. People have a feeling or a fear that is compelling them to want to say no to an entire group of people," Rev. Rohrer said in 2018. "The way to respond to that is by being our best self and by being louder than other people's fear."
"I think the most important thing I can say as a queer pastor is I'm sorry. Using faith to tear other people down is not good news," they added at the time. "We need to all be as loud and angry as the people who want to declare that there are types of people that god can't love. People are literally dying because of it." Now, Rev. Rohrer said, they're committed to continuing to guide the 200 churches they'll preside over with humility. "There have been a lot of people that have done a lot of work to remove hurdles in front of my path to be a minister," they said. "As a bishop, I want to remove hurdles from the paths of others who may have a more difficult road to become a pastor."