What's it Like Becoming an Openly Queer Minister?

by Michiko Bown-Kai, Program Assistant at Generous Space

Michiko is wearing black boots and a rainbow jumpsuit with a black belt, walking in a parade, waving, and holding a sign that says "Tell your transphobic relatives that this queer minister is praying for them"
Michiko marching in Pride Toronto 2019

This Saturday I am going to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament within The United Church of Canada. As an openly queer and non-binary person, it is humbling to be able to join the ever-growing list of Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ clergy who are serving the Church.

In 1988, The United Church of Canada created a policy that allowed gay and lesbian people to be full members of the church, including becoming ministers. It wasn’t until 2012 that the policy was extended to include transgender people as well.

It is both a blessing and challenge to have come out while answering my call to ministry. I have had the privilege of claiming space that has been denied to people like me in the past and been able to provide leadership and pastoral care that reflected my lived experiences. I have also been told that I am going to a particular place in hell because as a leader I am extra responsible for “leading people astray.” I have been welcomed by and shared ministry with fellow queer clergy and I have also been told when and how I should deal with people misgendering me.

When I first started seminary in 2012, I was still afraid that being openly queer would make my work and learning environments unsafe. However, as I began to fully understand my call to ministry I realized that my queerness was an integral part of my ministry and that staying in the closet would hold me back from my own relationship with God. I know there were classmates who chose to never sit beside me. I spent a lot of time and energy educating staff and students alike about my non-binary identity and gender neutral pronouns. My experience of being queer in seminary wasn’t impossible but it certainly was not without challenges.

So, you may be wondering, would I recommend seminary as the ideal time to come out as queer and non-binary? Maybe. The good news about seminary is that everyone is experiencing their own tension of trying to arrive at the destination of being prepared for ministry while being humbled and rediscovering themselves again and again. In other words, seminary is a messy time for everyone. Thank God I had such a loving and supportive trans community that gave me permission to be messy and empowered me to be unapologetic about my self-discovery.

Michiko, wearing a white stole and smiling at the camera.

In preparing to be ordained, I have learned that it may not be possible to be “out” in every situation but there will be times when, without a doubt, who I am will be fully embraced and celebrated. God calls me to ministry in all of these places.

I have learned the power of educating others at the speed of trust - that I can share who I am with those who are ready and deserving of my energy.

I have learned that “Who is God calling me to serve in this space?” can be a much more life-giving question than “Will I be accepted?” or “Am I enough?”

I have learned that my queerness is a blessing and that God has called me, all of me, to ministry.