Local Episcopalian priest says he is transgendered

The Rev. Greg Fry, priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, told his congregation Sunday morning that he is transgendered and identifies himself as a woman, apparently becoming the only working member of the Episcopalian clergy in Arkansas ever to make such an announcement.

Church members and officials at Grace Episcopal declined comment on Monday, while one member said church leaders in the vestry were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, after which they may be in a better position to discuss the matter.

The Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, said in a statement that he has met with the congregation’s vestry.

“I think that the congregation will spend time in the coming weeks asking questions and becoming knowledgeable about the issue,” Benfield said, “and I hope that thoughtful questioning will precede any decisions about Greg’s long-term ministry at Grace Church.”

The bishop’s response “is congruent with a resolution of the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church stating that people have an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Episcopal Church regardless of their gender identity and expression,” the statement read.

According to various definitions, a transgender person is one who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one that corresponds to the person’s sex at birth. Transgender orientation is independent of sexual orientation.

Grace Episcopal, located at at 4101 S. Hazel St., was established in 1959 as a mission of Trinity Episcopal Church, the only other Episcopal church in the city. Trinity’s rector for the past 12 years, the Rev. Dr. Walter Van Zandt Windsor, stated disapproval of Fry’s announcement when contacted by The Commercial for comment.

“I am appalled by what has taken place at Grace Episcopal Church, but I understand,” Windsor said in telephone and email comments. “I am primarily appalled because the announcement comes as a shock and obviously without concern for the Episcopalians in our community. I think it might have been less upsetting if we had spent time participating in a discussion of what all of this means related to our unified witness as Episcopalians.”

Windsor said he assumes Fry has the support of the diocese and Grace’s congregation.

“Grace is a loving group of people,” Windsor said, “and I am sure that any error on their part is one of affirmation and love for one undergoing such tremendous changes in their life, such as their pastor is apparently undergoing.”

Trinity, Windsor said, “upholds family values.”

“We adhere to the traditional values of the church,” Windsor said, adding that Trinity may have “perhaps more traditional mores than Grace” on some issues.

Fry’s declared sexual status is a new occurrence within the Episcopal church in Arkansas, but not elsewhere in the United States, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.

“There are a relatively small number of transgender members of the clergy in the Episcopal church,” Benfield said in the statement to The Commercial in response to questions that were emailed to him. “They work in a variety of settings, some in congregations and some in chaplaincies or other similar settings.

“This situation in Arkansas is the first time that the church in Arkansas has had a priest announce his or her transgender status to a congregation where that priest currently works,” the bishop continued.

The diocese, headquartered in Little Rock, comprises more than 14,000 members and 60 congregations.

Fry, who resides in Little Rock, contacted The Commercial by email Monday afternoon and said he would entertain questions. Several questions were emailed to him, but Fry did not respond to any of them within a four-hour period as a publication deadline neared.

Benfield said Fry is protected in his sexual status by an Episcopal Church canon that states: “No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of this church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified” by church law.”

“There is not a church policy concerning transgender members of the clergy who announce their transgender status in a congregation,” the bishop said. “Each situation is addressed individually.”

The title of “priest-in-charge” at Grace Episcopal is a part-time position. Fry’s wife, Lisa Fry, is a priest at an Episcopalian church in Little Rock.