San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Area & Business
Transgender bishop makes history in S.F.
A beloved pastor in San Francisco has become the first openly transgender bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — and among the first of any mainline Christian denomination in the nation.
The joy was palpable Saturday as 65 bishops and more than 150 pastors gathered outside Grace Cathedral in bright sunlight to celebrate the installation of the Rev. Megan Rohrer as bishop in the Sierra Pacific Synod. Rohrer, who uses plural pronouns, served as pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Parkside neighborhood and chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department before being elected to a six-year bishop term.
Two days of events, capped off with an installation service at Grace Cathedral, celebrated the historic moment for the LGBTQ community.
“So many of the places where trans people experience violence these days are in the places where there are a lot of people who believe their faith compels them to divide
and to distance,” Rohrer said outside the cathedral.
They hoped their installation might inspire a “counter-narrative that there is hope.”
“There is no body, nobody, that isn’t welcome in a church like this, that isn’t welcome in God’s community, that isn’t a full and faithful part of the church,” they said.
Rohrer will lead one of the church’s 65 synods, overseeing nearly 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada.
Local dignitaries filled the pews for Saturday’s service. They included the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the city’s police and fire chiefs, Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Matt Haney and Myrna Melgar, state Sen. Scott Wiener and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.
Others in the city, including the head of the Department of Emergency Management, took to social media to laud Rohrer.
The two-hour service featured messages, prayers, music and Bible readings chosen by Rohrer, including the story of a follower of Jesus who met and baptized a eunuch — groundbreaking in ancient times.
“There is a lot of either/or in our church ... in our communities and country and the world,” Eaton said. “The great miracle of God and the way God chooses to be God for us is that God opens up more than either/ or, there’s both/and.”
Eaton, who said Rohrer was used to being “the first, but not last,” praised the new bishop’s service to San Francisco.
“Your bishop sleeps on the streets with those who have no homes. Your bishop feeds those who are hungry,” Eaton said. “This bishop walks not only with families in trauma, but when these first responders respond to a traumatic incident, and these people need to stay
“We all grew up in a time when the church was saying no, and now we have bishops who are LGBTQ. It’s an amazing time to be in the church.”
Noah Hepler of Philadelphia, pastor with Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
with the bodies of those who died, this chaplain, your bishop, stands with them and prays with them.”
Rohrer’s impact has spread beyond San Francisco.
Pastor Noah Hepler came from Philadelphia to celebrate. He appeared on the show “Queer Eye,” on which Rohrer visited him and talked him through his struggles with being a gay pastor.
“I’m almost at a loss for words,” Hepler said about the significance of the day. “We all grew up in a time when the church was saying no, and now we have bishops who are LGBTQ. It’s an amazing time to be in the church.”
Rohrer grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., where they studied religion at Augustana University. In 2002, they moved to the Bay Area to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Rohrer became one of seven LGBTQ pastors accepted by the progressive Evangelical Lutheran church in 2010 after it allowed ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships. The new bishop is married and has two children.
Mandelman, who is gay, called Rohrer a friend and an “extraordinary person” whom he met around a decade ago while Rohrer organized free breakfasts Sunday mornings at a Lutheran church.
Many recognized the joyous event came on a tragic day, when the country commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
“For all the fear and sadness and tragedy of the last 20 years,” Mandelman said, “it is undeniable that there has been light in changing social notions and laws within institutions — religious, secular — throughout this country and throughout the world.”
Mallory Moench and Danielle Echeverria are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @mallorymoench, @DanielleEchev