Transgender Minister Placed on Leave
[WASHINGTON, DC] - On Saturday, Bishop Felton Edwin May, head of the Baltimore-Washington conference of the United Methodist Church, told a group of clergy that transgender minister Rebecca Ann Steen has been placed on an involuntary leave of absence.
A few days earlier, it appeared that Steen was poised to become the first transgender Methodist minister to take up active duty in the church. But on Thursday, the bishop reported, a complaint was filed against Steen, which is now being investigated.
In October 1999, Richard Zamostny took a voluntary leave from Rockville United Methodist Church in Rockville, Md., in order to transition from male to female. Last year at this time, during the annual conference meeting, Steen requested to be reinstated, which is normally an automatic procedure for ministers on voluntary leave.
But just as Steen's request began to spark controversy, she withdrew it and chose to remain on leave another year. Nonetheless, the conference organized a series of discussions on the subject of transsexuality in the clergy as a response to the situation. Steen renewed her request this year, and as of the weekend, it appeared that no Methodist rules and regulations stood in her way. In a recent article, the Washington Post reported that May planned to assign Steen to a new position, as per her request.
Steen "has voluntarily returned to active service," May said last Thursday. "Therefore, she is available for appointment by July 1."
Dean Snyder, communications director for the conference, told the Post that the annual conference itself has no authority over the status of a minister. "If there's any action (by the conference against Steen), the bishop could rule it out of order." But by Saturday, Steen's return to service was indefinitely postponed. According to Methodist law, said the conference Web site, "the names of persons making complaints and the nature of complaints shall be treated in a confidential manner by the bishop."
According to a Thursday posting on the Advocate's Web site, the complaint was related to Zamostny's behavior at Weller United in Thurmont, Md., in the mid-1990s. However, Snyder had no knowledge of any problems in Steen's former ministry.
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