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LGBT(+) SHEs: Rev. Autumn Dennis

LGBT(+): Autumn Dennis

Next in our LGBT(+) series is 26 year old, Rev. Autumn Dennis, a queer minister serving in the suburbs of St. Louis as Director of Missions at Manchester United Methodist Church. They have a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School and are working towards their Master of Divinity at Eden Theological Seminary. In their spare time, they play roller derby as “Sinister Minister #667” with Arch Rival Roller Derby of St. Louis. Their preferred pronouns are they/them.

I was born in the lower middle class suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. I somehow managed to grow up nonreligious in the buckle of the Bible Belt with hippie parents learning how to memorize the Rocky Horror Show. However, I realized that I was both queer and a person of some kind of faith around the age of eleven- and I had no idea people thought the two were incompatible until I told a friend and he said, “My church says you’ll burn in hell.” I asked my parents (who identified as agnostic and Wiccan at the time) if we could go to church, and the only church they knew to take us to was my grandmother’s conservative Southern Baptist megachurch. So, that was great. Hearing that God was against people like me from the pews was all I needed to hear to figure out that if these people are supposed to be like Jesus, then I wanted nothing to do with Jesus. I pushed it out of my mind.

Fast forward to high school where a cute red-headed girl is asking me would I like to come to her youth group because she’s about to get baptized…um, yes please. Long story short, that’s how I became a Methodist for eight years. What started out as me trying to get close with the girl I had a crush on turned into a wonderful, welcoming community of faith where I was asked, “Did you know that Jesus taught us things about caring for our neighbor? That Jesus cares about justice and did more than just bleed on a cross?” This spoke to me and my passion for social justice. They didn’t ask anything about my sexual orientation…they never talked about it at least, which was a welcome change for me at the time. Through my involvement with this Methodist church, I was able to get a full ride scholarship to a great Methodist college.

 

I felt a call to ministry to serve those who were marginalized and struggling in the world.

However, that welcome seemed to come with a price, or at least an asterisk on it. Soon enough, I felt like the unaddressed question of my sexuality was the elephant in the room whenever they talked about sexual sin to us young people. Soon enough, it seemed clear to me that if I wanted to remain a part of this supportive community, I had to truly surrender everything to God in pursuit of the Kingdom- and that included who I was and who I loved. So began the abusive chapters of my relationship with the church.
Furthermore, I felt a call to ordained ministry but I refused to tell anyone or even to admit it to myself. The United Methodist Church does not, by church law, ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” (their words, not mine). I was living a life deep in shame until I reached the sanctuary that was my college, Martin Methodist College. At this school, I expected to be trained to be a missionary to the nations. But instead, I was thrown into critical bible classes that taught me how to think for myself and read the bible with new eyes- namely, how to read scripture with the original histories, cultures, contexts, and languages. I learned that many of the Bible passages that kept me up at night were mistranslated or at least misunderstood in their contexts. I was able to embrace the truth that God created me exactly as I am, welcomes me exactly as I am, celebrates me exactly as I am, and calls me to ministry all the same.
In the time since, I have “come out” to myself in a multitude of ways. From ages 11 to 19, I identified as bisexual. From ages 19 to 22, I identified as a lesbian. I came out to myself as agender at age 22 or so, and have identified as agender and queer for the past four years.

People say that you “come out” every day to other people, but I feel like people don’t talk enough about how we are also always coming out to ourselves and learning more about ourselves.

Professionally, I tried being ordained by the Methodist Church before I could no longer stand the pressure of having to closet myself in order to do so. I was ordained by Amos House Community, a Catholic Worker community in Nashville, in October 2015. In my career, I served in interfaith nonprofits doing homeless outreach work, anti-death penalty advocacy, prison chaplaincy, and hospital chaplaincy. I am currently feeling called to pastor a church, and in order to do so I have to transfer my ordination into a denomination, and am currently pursuing a recognition of my ordination through the United Church of Christ, a wonderfully progressive denomination that has been ordaining women and queers longer than any other denomination.
Currently, I am serving as Director of Missions at Manchester United Methodist Church in the suburbs of St. Louis. We all like to joke that God works in mysterious ways, but I could not be more grateful that I have the privilege to serve a church of the denomination that I have such an intimate and complicated relationship with- I see redemption and grace every day as I see people of faith working for inclusion of queer people in their church everyday. I currently help oversee all of the service ministries that happen in our church, such as working with nonprofits that serve vulnerable children and families, organizing food drives, coordinating volunteer events with partner agencies, and partnering with our Social Justice Coordinator to provide education for the congregation around faith, service, and justice.
As a female-presenting person and a queer person, I get a lot of questions in my work.

If I only had a dollar every time someone saw me in my clergy collar and said “But you’re a woman!” or “So you’re gay AND Christian AND a minister? How does that work?”

A lot of well-meaning people tell me this as well, and I try to view it as an opportunity to bring awareness that there’s a lot of queer people of faith working for change in their faith communities. We go invisible a lot of the time, or people assume we’re automatically atheists (which there’s nothing wrong with that- I support you!!) But we do exist, and there are churches out there that are welcoming and progressive (The Episcopalians, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, just to name a few.) And of course, there’s also a lot of ways that queer people can live into their spiritualities and lots of ways that “church” can look.
But there’s my story. One of many queer ministers out there.
ICYMI: Check out another post in our LGBT(+) series with Robyn ButskoWant more information on pronouns and other LGTB(+) words and phrases? Check out Refinery 29’s Gender Nation Glossary

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