One of my dear friends asked me this question, from a novel she’d been reading, a couple weeks before my ordination. Fully supportive of my vocation to ministry but fiercely loving and protective of her friend, she expressed concern that my church might be setting me up to fail. Would I have a place in the institutional church? In Baptist life, of all places?
I understand her worry; the same thoughts have given me pause since I first discerned Spirit’s gentle tug two years ago. An openly trans woman preaching is hard to imagine. Like a Baptist sitting on the front pew.
But it was also hard for me to imagine any future at all as a child praying alone in her bunkbed that God would change her into a girl, or as a teenager learning that people who felt like her were freaks and sinners. When I came out and began transition three years ago, any positive outcome seemed impossible. I just know I had to do it. I wasn’t supposed to have that calling, either, but following it saved my life.
My grandmother used to say God has a plan for everything. It’s mysterious, but some of Paul’s disciples knew that the Church plays a big part in it. We reveal and embody God’s wisdom, which is speckled and splattered and colorful as a Jackson Pollock painting (Eph 3:8–10). As a minister and instrument of the gospel, I hope to help others recognize and know their unique contributions to that picture as bearers of the divine image.
What do you do with a calling you’re not supposed to have? You try to follow it anyway, the best you can. Testimony, discernment, and dissent—what’s more Baptist than that?
The Rev. Erica Saunders is now pastor of Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio and is one of the first openly trans women ordained in Baptist life. Ordained in March by Wake Forest Baptist Church, she holds the Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University. Erica’s passions include preaching, the study of Christian origins, and lame puns.