Message to the RMN Community – Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Retired

Greetings from Virginia, where my spouse Mary and I live in retirement and from where we’ve recently shared our authentic selves as a cisgender/transgender couple. It has been a long 11 years keeping this a secret as much as possible.

We are enormously grateful to those in the trans community who knew our true stories and have supported us. We know we have much to learn about RMN, and there are new journeys to explore in the years to come. We are also aware of the misunderstandings, missteps, and hurts that we could possibly create as we move forward in this season.

With that on my mind, I come to say a word to you about the 2013 church trial for Rev. Frank Schaefer in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Rev. Schaefer was charged by a member of the church he served for performing a same-sex wedding ceremony for his son, and that complaint came before me. A “Just Resolution” was not able to be achieved, and without the vetting power of the Committee on Investigation (removed from the BOD at the General Conference of 2012), the complaint went straight to trial.

I want you to hear the following: I acknowledge my part in this trial. It was extremely hurtful to Rev. Frank Schaefer, his family, and the LGBTQIA community, and for that I am sorry. I have lived a long time regretting that I had not done more to achieve a Just Resolution.

I have worked hard in the years that followed to learn and grow. In January, I told both of my conferences that I would never, ever send anyone to trial involving LGBTQIA weddings or ordinations. The trial in 2013 was a moral injury to many, and any further trials would do irreparable damage to a part of the Body that even our BOD declares are people of “sacred worth.” This was met with expected unhappiness from some of the Church. Eleven churches disaffiliated from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference this year and named my witness as part of their rationale. The Church continues to struggle mightily, and I pray I live to see a new day of full inclusivity. The dawn is breaking. I see it is on the horizon. I resolve to be in solidarity with you whose faithful persistence is hastening the day.

With our authentic journey now begun in retirement, it is our deep desire to engage in ministry with the transgender community. We don’t know what this will look like, and we humbly recognize that we are newcomers to the Reconciling movement and have much to learn. We will lean on the strength of the Spirit and we hope to lean on this community as we move forward together. 

By Bishop Peggy Johnson

Bishop Peggy Johnson, a recently retired UM bishop, served the Philadelphia Area (Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences) from 2008-2013.  Prior to that she served in the Baltimore Washington Conference, mostly in ministry with the Deaf community.  She and her spouse Mary have been married for 43 years.

16 comments

  1. I am a transwoman. I am 66 years old, disabled, living on survivors benefits. I was awarded a MAR and STM from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. I was the first out transgender person to receive a Master of Sacred Theology. I applaud what you are doing and will always be willing to do what I can to help.

  2. Your witness is so special to me. As the daughter of a Methodist minister, I sought out a reconciling ministries UMC to take my transgender daughter. We were both welcomed with open arms. When I read your story recently, I was brought to tears thinking of you and Mary and the struggles you must have endured. I’m so very proud to know both of you.

  3. All good thoughts to you and Mary as this phase in your journey begins. I retain very pleasant memories of our meeting in Chautauqua several years ago. Francine remains a FB friend.

    1. God bless you Bishop Johnson,
      Hopefully your example will help my church John Wesley UMC in Falmouth Ma, come to full acceptance of all LGBTQ individuals. This coming Sunday we have a meeting as a precursor to an actual vote. The congregation will formally meet it’s queer members, and hear our story on how difficult it is to come to a church that officially calls us incompatible. Our church is accepting and like the New England region does not acknowledge the LGBTQ restrictions in the book of discipline, but is yet to vote as a congregation on the direction we’ll be taking.
      We’re approaching a “fish or cut bait” moment. I pray that putting a face on this decision will matter.
      Thank you again for your support.
      Michelle Lowry
      She Her Hers

  4. Thank you, Bishop Peggy, for your witness and faithful leadership in such difficult times! God bless you in helping to bring about an inclusive United Methodist Church that is open to all!

  5. Bishop Peggy and Mary Johnson,
    Now I understand your words and see the Word written in your heart. I almost asked who, in your family, struggles. Now I can see that it is all. I want to affirm your call and ministry as both divine and human. God is calling all of us to stand for justice but it is certainly never easy. We are all human and misstep along the way. It might seem harmless but in truth they do hurt everyone. So be honest, as I believe you are and ask forgiveness. Then stand in the light. What is good, truthful and loving will become evident to all in time. Know that our home is open to you anytime. In Christ’s Love, Mary

  6. Thank you for being true to yourselves. This must have been a very difficult time but God is sending you on a journey. He knows this is the right time. We are a Reconciling Ministry in the Holston Conference Smoky Mountain District. We are Union Grove UMC located in Friendsville, TN and as a member I can safely say, Pastor Valerie Ohle and the members of Union Grove are 100% with you in your endeavours. God has led us in this direction and we are here for all.

  7. Bishop Peggy and Pastor Mary, Blessings and best wishes to you both as you start into this new phase of your lives.
    Nancy Megley, Arch Street UMC

  8. Dear Peggy and Mary, I give thanks to God for your perseverance, courage, and witness to God’s abiding love for the LGBTQIA community. Peggy, you won a special place in my heart years ago when you worked at Wesley Seminary to support deaf and hard of hearing students as an ALS interpreter. Always, you have walked alongside those in need of an advocate. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your faithfulness. My home is always open to you two sisters in Christ. Grace and peace be yours, Suzanne

  9. There is so much healing in this apology. My Methodist Church happens to be a Reconciling Ministry.♡♡♡ Much gratitude

  10. This was wonderful to read. I am the daughter & also a neice of Methodist ministers who, 45 – 50 years ago, tried to move their UMC congregations in Mississippi & California toward support of the civil rights movement. That civil and religious rights struggle is ongoing for people of color and now ongoing for members of the LGBTQIA community. Thanks to the Bishop for her witness to that ongoing struggle.

  11. Good Bless thanks for your years of service to the church. Prayers for you and Mary that you get to enjoy your time together

  12. Thank you , Peggy and Mary, for being a face and a witness. My husband and I have struggled with church attendance , all 49 years we have been together, 10 of those married. He was humiliated, as a young man, by the Catholic church, in the mid west. I was a cradle Methodist, and really wanted to go back but we are not looked upon as a desirable couple in the eyes of “man. We knew in our hearts that we were fine in the eyes of God. We did find a church home in S.E. Texas to attend and are mostly accepted. However just knowing what in the B.O.D. it is difficult to join in on some of the activities with couples. We have several LGBTQ couples in our church and this ruckus over the hate group of the W.C.A. is posing a spike in our hearts. We can not imagine what you all have endured. Bless you both and may we never give up the fight of equality. Thank you and enjoy a blessed retirement.

  13. Dearest Bishop Johnson, it has been a number of years now since I came out to you as a gay man in the clergy of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC. I shared that I could no longer live inauthentically within the bounds of the UMC even though I still felt my call to ministry very strongly. You helped me so much in making the change to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and my husband, Don and I continue to serve joyously a wonderfully loving and accepting congregation in a very conservative community of northern Pennsylvania. I pray that now that you have loosed the shackles of your own life’s journey, God will lead you on to far greater things than you could ever have expected as our Redeemer has done for us. Your intimate understanding and acceptance of God’s grace for all people will be an example and firebrand that will guide many more LGBTQIA clergy and laity to finally find peace, worth and meaning in their lives. You are truly one of the Saints of the denomination to be lifted high on this All Saints Day. May the love you have shown so boldly enrich the Church and move the denomination through this difficult time.

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