An openly transgender woman has been named pastor of a Baptist church in Ohio, Baptist News Global reported.
Erica Saunders, a 2019 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, began July 1 as pastor of Peace Community Church in Oberlin, the outlet said.
The church was founded in 1866 as the First Baptist Church of Oberlin but became Peace Community Church in 2000 and now describes itself as a "small, but active and social action-oriented congregation" that's "very involved" in the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Alliance of Baptists and the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region, Baptist News Global said.
The church added on its website that it's "an inclusive congregation that boldly and earnestly embraces the call of Jesus to seek God's Realm." Peace Community Church began welcoming and affirming LGBTQ people in 2005, the outlet said.
What's the background on Saunders?
Saunders embarked on a first-year-of-seminary gender transition and eventually became one of the first openly transgender individuals to be ordained by a Baptist church in the United States, the outlet said. Wake Forest Baptist Church — which meets on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — ordained Saunders earlier this year, the outlet added.
Saunders is "probably the only bi, trans, Baptist preacher lady you know," according to the new pastor's social media introductions, Baptist News Global noted in a previous story.
"Trans folks exist," Saunders noted on Twitter, although the account apparently doesn't exist anymore. "God created us just the way we are, and God calls us good. Unfortunately, being trans means I'm not welcome in most churches as a visitor, let alone a leader. But we are Christians. We are called."
What did the church's search team have to say?
"Erica stood out as a candidate with unique strengths," the Peace Community Church's search team told Baptist News Global. "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."
How did Saunders react to becoming pastor?
"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," Saunders said in a statement to the outlet.
The city of Oberlin also is home to Oberlin College, which Baptist News Global said consistently ranks as one the nation's most LGBTQ-welcoming campuses.