The Reverend David Weekley was born in Cleveland, Ohio, an introspective child who loved music, playing with friends, and fishing with Grandpa Louie. Although he didn’t really “grow up in the church,” David felt God’s loving presence from a very young age.
He also felt like a boy. From the beginning. Despite the appearance of his physical body.
Kindergarten included his first lessons about how many people treat “kids like David.”
He progressed through school, learning those lessons of isolation and intolerance very well, becoming more shy, lonely and desperate each year.
By the time he was in high school, he would get off the bus, enter his house, and go directly to his room. Then, David would throw his books on the chair, pound the walls with his fists and cry. Cry asking God, “Why?” Asking God to help him, to change him, to make him whole, lovable, and able to share his love openly, like his friends.
He never thought of going to church.
Memories of the church were of judgment and condemnation for people like David. The church never seemed to offer anything caring or helpful, or hopeful.
Fortunately, David found a few caring, accepting people who helped him survive his hellish adolescence.
Fortunately, David found good medical care.
In 1975, at the age of 24 and while attending college, he physically transitioned from female to male.
David went on to graduate from Cleveland State University with a B.A. cum laude in Psychology.
He also began to attend Oxford United Methodist Church in Oxford Ohio where he enjoyed singing in the choir. No one in the church knew about his transition, but at the time he didn’t think it would matter. From his perspective, he was a young man exploring Christian community after almost two decades of estrangement and Oxford UMC felt like “home.” David visited with his pastor about his childhood spiritual experiences and his growing sense of a call to ministry and was encouraged to reflect on where God might be leading. David couldn’t imagine himself conducting public worship services, so he prayed. Not the despairing prayer he prayed during high school. A new prayer seeking God’s guidance for a young man coming to understand the depths of God’s love.
David completed graduate studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in Phenomenology of Religion and moved to Boston to attend seminary. During a class on Methodist History taught by Dr. E.K. Brown, David realized it was no coincidence he had become a United Methodist. As he studied John Wesley’s theological ideas and methods—particularly the idea of “prevenient grace”—it became clear to David God was not simply calling him to the ministry. God was calling him to the United Methodist ministry.
David received a Master of Divinity degree from Boston University School of Theology in 1982 and was ordained by the United Methodist Church.
He had still never mentioned his transition. David felt his gender identity was part of his private life and since the United Methodist Book of Discipline did not preclude transgender people from serving as clergy, he was not obligated to discuss his gender with anyone.
For the next 27 years David served the United Methodist Church with distinction in congregations throughout Idaho and Oregon.
But God had yet another calling for David.
By the early 90s, David was becoming concerned as the United Methodist Church appeared to grow increasingly restrictive and negative in its policies toward LGTBQ people and communities. He was also recognizing he missed the part of himself that could only be present with people who knew his whole story, yet he knew there was an unofficial, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy within the church.
Although he was a busy pastor and a father of two, David started advocating for justice and inclusivity for LGBT people in the United Methodist Church. He, and others working on the same issues, hoped to amend the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline so LGTBQ people could participate in every dimension of church life, including answering a call to the ordained ministry.
He looked forward to one day being able to share openly who he is as a transgender man, a United Methodist clergy, and a human being.
But eventually, he realized he could not wait for the church policy to change.
Keeping his secret no longer worked for David.
He decided it was time to come in from the wilderness of secrecy. It was time to stand up as the respected community leader he had become and help build a path for all people to be welcomed in God’s church.
Reverend Weekley shared his story with his congregation and the world August 30, 2009.
Which made David the first openly transgender clergy serving the United Methodist Church.
A short time later, he released his book, In from the Wilderness: Sherman, she-r-man, published by WIPF&STOCK Publishers (Eugene, OR.). It relates his personal story, faith journey, and reflections on the official position of U.S. churches toward the LGTBQ community.
David’s story has appeared in the national media, and he regularly speaks at conferences, colleges and universities around the nation. He belongs to several organizations advocating for the full inclusion and rights of transgender and LGBQ people.
And, most importantly, he still prays. But today, David doesn’t ask God why. Today, David prays that all people will receive the same healing and freedom he received when he spoke his truth aloud. He prays that as each of us speak our truth, it will help end the misunderstanding, misinformation, and abuse that comes when people do not understand those different from themselves. He prays we will all become comfortable with these basic truths:
- We love God and God loves us.
- We are all different from most other people in some way.
- We still love God, and God still loves us.
Photograph courtesy of Jess T. Dugan, photographer.