Rev. Rebecca Steen and the United Methodist Church (UMC)

One of the earliest documented case of clergy gender transition in Mainline Protestant traditions is the case of the Rev. Rebecca Steen in the United Methodist Church.


Steen grew up in Anne Arundel County, MD and graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Wesley Theological Seminary in Northwest Washington, DC. She had been a long time member of the UMC clergy, serving churches in Thurmont, Rockville and Edgewater in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

By all accounts, Steen quietly approached Bishop Felton May in 1999 about taking a medical leave of absence to pursue medical gender transition. Rev. Steen hoped to return to service soon after surgery in 2000. However, Bishop May asked her to delay so the Conference could study the situation. A 12 member committee of conference clergy were involved in discussions led by a United Methodist mediation service. Steen underwent psychological testing and the Board of Ordained Ministry consulted theologians, ethicists, doctors, psychologists, and other specialists.

Because church law did not provide any guidance or prohibition about how to handle gender transition, there were no grounds to deny Steen an appointment as clergy. She was found fit for service and approved for appointment in 2002.

Unfortunately, voices from both left and right in the conference took issue with Bishop May's handling of the situation. It also appears that Bishop May and Rev Steen's relationship dissolved under the stress of the situation.

In June 2002, charges were filed against Steen by a former secretary, causing Steen's appointment to be put on hold pending an investigation. Additional charges were brought by the Bishop's cabinet, including the cabinet's request for her to take an involuntary leave of absence.

Rather than face the continuing scrutiny, Steen resigned her credentials as United Methodist clergy on June 28, 2002.

In a related matter, Bishop May refused to put Steen on immediate involuntary leave without providing proper due process. The question was put to the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church in October 2002 and Bishop May's handling of the matter was upheld.

Note: Few original news articles remain available from 2002 coverage of the Steen case.

Other sources represent articles from the Washington Post and United Methodist News Service, which are no longer available from the original source.