The Peace Community Church in Ohio made history recently by calling a transgender pastor to lead its congregation.
According to Christian Headlines, Erica Saunders said she was “grateful for the gospel witness provided by Peace Community Church”.
“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,” she said.
Baptist News reports that the church team who appointed her from a field of 16 candidates, which they whittled down to two before choosing Saunders.
“Both candidates were very strong candidates, but Erica stood out as a candidate with unique strengths,” the church said in a statement.
The church described Saunders, a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, as "bright, compassionate and faith-filled", adding that "we felt and she felt a sense of calling to our church.”
Founded in 1866, the the church decided by consensus to welcome and affirm LGBTIQ+ people back in 2005, describing itself as “an inclusive congregation that boldly and earnestly embraces the call of Jesus to seek God’s Realm”.
“We work together to bring peace and justice to our world. We gather to worship and praise God and build an authentic community of harmony, joy, and celebration, and to pray and care for one another,” the church's website reads.
Speaking to Progressive Southern Theologians, Saunders described her journey into - and out of - Catholicism.
"Around my junior year of high school, I developed friendships with people of different faith traditions," she recalled.
"I had a friend who identified as a Buddhist, several who were agnostic or atheist, and one in particular who was strongly Catholic. I would get in conversations with my Catholic friend about things I was told from my evangelical heritage about the Catholic Church – how they supposedly worshiped saints or didn’t believe in Jesus in the right ways.
"We would have debates and conversations about faith and, through these and some of the follow up research I was doing around these topics, I actually began to realise there was a lot of Roman Catholic theology that I admired. In fact, I ended up converting to the Church and was baptised later that year at the Easter Vigil."
She added: "I identified strongly as a Catholic for the next several years throughout college. This changed, later, when I came out to myself and my friends, as I realised that I wouldn’t have a home in the Catholic Church, either. I realised I couldn’t really stay there and be my whole self."