This article was published on May 13th, 2021
The Reverend Megan Rohrer, a San Francisco pastor was recently elected bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, becoming the first transgender bishop in America of a major Christian denomination. The organization, based in Sacramento, has an assembly of over 36,000 members in 180 congregations across central and northern California, and northern Nevada. With over 13,000 worshippers attending on Sundays, bishops are elected for 6-year terms by the ELCA.
The organization’s current presiding bishop, the Reverend Elizabeth A. Eaton, commended the synod for recognizing Rohrer’s skills and talents: “When we say all are welcome, we mean all are welcome. We believe that the Spirit has given each of us gifts in order to build up the body of Christ.”
In the election, Rohrer was elected on the fifth ballot, narrowly edging out Reverend Jeff R. Johnson, the current pastor of the Lutheran chapel at the University of California, Berkeley, by two votes.
Rohrer’s calling for the ministry began in 2002 when moving to San Francisco to attend the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and then later transferred to the LGBTQ-friendly Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. In 2006, Rohrer became the first transgender person to be ordained by the ELCA. Rohrer, who uses the pronouns they/them, became the first trans pastor from the denomination in 2014, when they were called to Grace Lutheran.
Aside from pastoral duties at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rohrer is the current community Chaplin coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department and is a vocal advocate for San Francisco large LGBTQ+ community and those that suffer from homelessness and food insecurity. With more than 3.3 million members, the ELCA is one of the biggest Christian denominations in America. The Reverend Dawn Bennett, a pastor at The Table lauds Rohrer’s promotion as “quite encouraging”.
Ross Murray, a Lutheran deacon and senior director of education and training for the GLAAD Media Institute, agreed that Saturday’s vote is even more proof of the church evolving on LGBTQ+ issues. In 2006, Rohrer was ordained under an “extraordinary candidacy process” because the national ELCA had made the decision to ban non-celibate LGBTQ ministers.
Rohrer has been a counselor and advocate for LGTBQ people, particularly transgender homeless and Christians, and while gay bishops have served in mainline Protestant denominations since Bishop Gene Robinson was named a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, transgender priests and ministers have only just recently began to find acceptance among the general public.
In 2007, Drew Phoenix was permitted to remain as pastor of a Baltimore United Methodist parish after coming out as transgender; the UMC followed suit and appointed its first transgender deacon in 2017. The Episcopal Church approved transgender priests in 2012. In San Francisco, the board of supervisors declared August 12th ‘Pastor Megan Rohrer Day’.
Rohrer’s profile was raised significantly last year during a guest appearance on Queer Eye, where they lent support to an openly gay pastor in Philadelphia.