A married father-of-two has become the Methodist Church's first transgender minister after coming out to a congregation in the U.K.
Joy Everingham, a 46-year-old university chaplain who serves at St. Peter's in Canterbury, revealed plans to come out as transgender to church elders before becoming ordained last summer and receiving their support.
Later, Everingham made the decision to come out to the congregation, The Telegraph reported on Friday, becoming the first transgender person appointed as a minister with the church's knowledge.
Everingham revealed struggles with gender identity for over 40 years, applying lipstick and wearing women's clothes in secret.
Everingham became a Christian at age 15, describing it as a life-changing experience, and later got married at the age of 22. Ruth, Everingham's wife, was unaware of the secret life her husband was living for eight years, in which time the couple had their first child.
At 27 years of age, Everingham traveled to a transgender club, describing that as a defining moment in life.
"It made me realize it wasn't going to go away. I felt so at ease with myself. I felt normal," the Methodist minister explained.
"Coming back to the hotel that night I was thinking 'I don't want to take 'me' off.' I didn't want to go back to being what I what was. I knew I had to tell Ruth."
"We were sitting in bed and said 'I've got something to tell you,'" Everingham explained. "I started crying and couldn't breathe — it was probably the hardest thing I've ever done.
"Ruth was convinced I was either having an affair, or I was gay, it was obviously a bit of a shock. I thought she was going to leave me, or kick me out, but she said 'I've got to think about this.'"
Everingham decided to live full-time as a man again in 2002 after the birth of the couple's second son that year, and after becoming depressed was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at a gender clinic.
At 41, Everingham trained for two years to become a minister with the Methodist Church, and eventually spoke with senior church leaders, who gave the minister their full support to continue transitioning into a woman.
Everingham started living as a woman full-time three years ago, and also began taking cross-sex hormones.
"Ruth loves me for who I am, but she's still attracted to men. I'm not sure she is really attracted to me sexually anymore, but we're still in love and we're still best friends," Everingham explained.
"She still sees me as the same person, I just look a bit different. Transitioning has made our lives easier, it has become wonderfully normal."
In the United States, the United Methodist Church in Chicago commissioned its first "non-binary" deacon in June.
The Rev. M. Barclay was not the first transgender person to serve in the pastoral service of the church, but became the first openly "non-binary trans person," who neither identifies as male of female, to join the ranks of the church.
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, head of the United Methodist Group's Good News, argued that leadership positions should not be handed out easily to transgender people, however.
"We should probably draw the line at leadership, seeing transgender persons as not qualified for leadership," Lambrecht argued at the time, adding that it could create concern and confusion among the congregation.