On July 1st, an Ohio Baptist church called a transgender pastor to lead their congregation, making it one of a few churches in the Baptist congregation to be led by a person identifying as a gender other than their birth sex.
Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio, welcomed Erica Saunders as their new leader, an LGBT-affirming pastor who started identifying as a female in her first year of seminary at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Saunders saw hope for a future in Christian ministry after the former executive director of the Board of International Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA informed her he was confident he could find a church “crazy enough” to accept a transgender pastor.
Founded as First Baptist Church of Oberlin in July 1866, Peace Community Church is affiliated with the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Alliance of Baptists, and the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region.
According to Baptist News Global, Saunders was chosen after a long recruitment process that dwindled the 16-candidate pool down to two contending pastors.
“Both candidates were very strong…but Erica stood out as a candidate with unique strengths,” the pastoral search team wrote in a letter. “Bright, compassionate, faith-filled and spirit-led with a loving presence, she showed as much interest in each of us as we did in her. At the end of our time together on Sunday, when we formed a circle and said a departing prayer, I think we felt and she felt a sense of calling to our church.”
The letter continued that Saunders is “one of the first openly trans women ordained in Baptist life” and that her passions include “preaching, the study of Christian origins, [and] LGBTQ education and advocacy.”
The pastor claims on her website that “God has called her to congregational ministry as well as LGBTQ education and advocacy.”
Saunders’ academic publications and presentations include controversial titles like “Subverting Gender, Queering Power: Eunuchs in Early Christianity,” “Transgender Justice,” and “Reimagining Sexual Ethics in 1 Corinthians.”
Saunders said in a statement that she was “grateful for the gospel witness provided by Peace Community Church,” adding that “with God’s help, together we can follow the example of Christ and create a beloved community marked by abiding peace, expansive love and radical justice in Oberlin and beyond.”