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Methodist Minister Seeks Return to Work After Sex Change

[WASHINGTON, DC] - United Methodist Church officials could decide on Thursday whether a Maryland minister who had a sex-change operation during a leave of absence should return to active pastoral duty.

Richard A. Zamostny's request for reappointment as the Rev. Rebecca Steen has alarmed traditionalists in the church, which has been struggling with the issue of transgendered pastors.

The case could be stalled, though, by separate proceedings stemming from a complaint about Zamostny's behavior while he was pastor at Weller United Methodist Church in Thurmont in the mid-1990s.

Zamostny's last appointment was as pastor of Rockville United Methodist Church in Rockville after stints in Thurmont, Parkwood and Pasadena. His voluntary leave began in October 1999, Dean Snyder, spokesman for the church?s Baltimore-Washington Conference, said Wednesday.

The minister now lives in Baltimore, according to Laura Dolly, a secretary at the Thurmont church. The only Richard A. Zamostny in the Baltimore area has an unlisted telephone number and could not be reached for comment. There are no listings for Rebecca Steen.

Steen is among 10 ministers who have notified the regional Board of Ordained Ministry of their intention to return from voluntary leave, chairwoman Laura Easto said. On Thursday, the first day of the conference?s annual meeting in Washington, the board of 52 clergy and 18 lay persons will consider those cases in a closed meeting and make recommendations to Bishop Felton Edwin May regarding which are available for appointment, Easto said. The names will be revealed at a Friday meeting, Snyder said.

The only requirement to receive such a recommendation is "whether or not we believe as a board that the reasons for which a person went out on a leave of absence have been alleviated," Easto said.

If Steen is found eligible for appointment, the case could be further complicated by a complaint from Karen Purcell, another secretary at Weller United Methodist. Purcell expressed her concerns to Bishop May in a letter sent by registered mail May 28. She said it was a "personal complaint? about "his ethics as a pastor." She alleges Zamostny "violated rights? while assigned to Weller.

"This is a different issue from the sex change," Purcell said.

Depending on May's response, such a complaint could trigger an investigation that would supersede the request for a pastoral appointment, Easto said.

She said she had not heard of the complaint. Snyder said any complaint would be treated as a confidential personnel matter.

The United Methodist Church, the nation's third-largest denomination with8.4 million U.S. members, prohibits homosexuals from being pastors but has no rule against transgendered pastors. Steen's case has provoked debate within the Baltimore-Washington conference for more than two years. Leaders acknowledged the issue in a report issued after last-year's annual meeting and held more discussions but reached no conclusions.

The conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy objects to Steen's appointment. "As with the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church, this decision would tell the laity that the church is not accountable to traditional teachings, and that the clergy can operate by their own rules, often behind closed doors," Jerald Walz, a Methodist who works for the Washington-based institute, said.

Mark Tooley, director of the institute's United Methodist committee, said Zamostny should not be appointed because, among other reasons, "a sex-change operation is a deliberate physical mutilation of our bodies as God created them and therefore is a desecration of the temple in which God?s Holy Spirit dwells."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material maynot be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

=================Minister gets sex change

Transcript of Fox 45 new broadcast - WBFF WNUV

A Maryland preacher who had a sex change wants to return to the pulpit. That has led to a heated debate at the regional conference of the United Methodist Church in Washington.

The Reverend Richard Zamostny had been a minister for nearly five years at a quaint country church tucked on top of a hill in Thurmont, Frederick County. It was his longest tenure at any United Methodist Church in Maryland. In 1999, he reportedly left his family and his church in Montgomery County. He filed paperwork requesting a leave of absence, which was approved. During that time he had a sex change. Richard Zamostny became Rebecca Steen. Despite her leave, her photo is even listed in last year's Methodist Church Ministers Directory.

Parishioner: "I heard him preach once."

Downtown, in the Thurmont Country Kitchen: Resident: "I'm sort of curious to see what Richard looks like as 'Roberta'."

There's discussion and debate.

Resident: "To be honest, I can't picture him as a female minister anywhere. In my opinion, he couldn't set an example for the generations to come."

Resident: "When I think of religion, I don't think of a man going into a woman. I don't think it's right."

Parishioner: "I enjoyed his service, I really did."

A church secretary has filed a complaint against Reverend Zamostny in Thurmont. While she won't tell us exactly what the complaint entails, she says it has nothing to do with his gender change. As Rebecca Steen looks towards her future, hoping to be assigned as an active minister at another church, church leaders may be taking a second look at her past, when she... was a he... preaching in Frederick County. That complaint may put her dreams of returning to the clergy on hold, at least temporarily.

The Baltimore-Washington Regional Conference of Methodist Ministers is underway in Washington, DC this week. A ruling could come on Saturday on the minister's return to the pulpit.

Related Stories:

June 9, 2002 - Methodist Church May Expel Minister Who Had Sex Change

June 8, 2002 - Transgendered Minister in Line to be a Pastor

June 6, 2002 - Methodist Conference to Rule on Transsexual Minister's Fate

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