"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."
The Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made history earlier this month when it elected its very first openly transgender bishop. As per a press release from the ELCA, Rev. Megan 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," Rohrer, who uses the pronouns they and them, told CNN. "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, said Rohrer, involves being the "pastor of the pastors and cheerleader of almost 200 congregations." In a written statement to Religion News Service, they 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."
The Lutheran church is just one of two Christian denominations that allow transgender members to serve as clergy. Speaking to Cosmopolitan in 2018, 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." 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, said Rohrer. "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," 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." Rohrer, who was encouraged to run for bishop by their pastoral colleagues, believes that the time and effort they dedicated to supporting their community during the pandemic may have played a role in inspiring electors to vote for them in the bishop election.
“Since my appointment, I have received messages from people who are asking for prayers in the hallway of the ER because one of their trans loved ones has tried to take their own life”... please read this important story from @GayCityNews https://t.co/0WL9AMwdTM— Bishop-elect Megan Rohrer (@mmrohrer) May 13, 2021
In addition to hosting services live from their living room, Rohrer spent the pandemic praying with first responders who became overwhelmed by the global health crisis and setting up a phone line for a hospital chaplain to speak with medical workers. Now, they 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," Rohrer 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." Rohrer will begin their six-year term following their installation on September 11 at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek, California.