Arkansas bishop dissolves relationship between transgender priest, parish

Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas last night dissolved the relationship between the Rev. Gwen Fry, a transgender priest, and Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff. The Rev. Fry, who had previously been known as Greg, had informed the congregation on Sunday, that she was in transition.


We have Rev. Fry’s statement, the letter from Bishop Benfield to the Rev. Fry and the vestry, and a joint statement from TransEpiscopal and Integrity. Bishop Benfield also published a statement on the diocesan website.

The Rev Fry:

Last evening at the Vestry meeting at Grace Episcopal Church, the Senior Warden read a letter from the Bishop of the diocese which dissolved the pastoral relationship between the parish and myself. I fully support and agree with the bishop’s action of dissolution and believe it was the very best thing to happen for everyone involved. I thank the bishop for his generous and pastoral response in this situation and fully support his decision and leadership in bringing a gracious and holy end to this. I ask that you pray for Grace Church, a church and people that I continue to dearly love. Thank you for your support and prayers. My hope is that someday this will not be newsworthy, or even an issue at all, and people may live as the children of God in all the wonderfully diverse ways there can be.

Bishop Benfield:

Dear Greg and members of the vestry:

The announcement by your priest-­‐in-­‐charge that he is transgender has resulted in our church taking a look at gender in ways that would not have likely ocurred in a previous generation. It is a situation that our society and culture are looking at as well, and in that the church ministers in the context of the culture in which we are placed, it is only natural that such a discussion will take place in the church.

Initial conversations are often difficult, as all of you at Grace Church have discovered. I am convinced that in the long run, open and loving conversations lead to increased health for us as individuals and as congregations, and they promote the mission of the church to restore our unity with one another and with God.

I realize that at Grace Church one thing I can do to assist with your current health and to refocus all of us on mission is to offer my leadership as your bishop in the most constructive way possible. With that end in mind, I have decided to dissolve the relationship between the priest-­‐in-­‐charge and Grace Church, effective February 28, 2014. This action will allow the priest to transition at a pace that might not otherwise be possible, and it allows the congregation to reflect calmly on its recent discussions and reflect on how we live out our call to mission in a broken world that needs our witness.

I have great respect for Greg’s ministry among the people of Grace Church this past year, and I have equal respect for the witness of Grace Church to the people of Pine Bluff and beyond. We will all move forward, confident that God is forming us to be the people that God desires us to be. With every best wish […]

TransEpiscopal and Integrity:

I

ntegrity USA and TransEpiscopal were saddened to learn that the Rev. Gwen Fry is no longer the Priest in Charge of Grace Episcopal in Pine Bluff. We pray for healing for the Rev. Fry, for Grace Church, for the Diocese of AR, and the wider LGBT community in the coming days and months.

We remain clear and confident that the wider family of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas – including the Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield— embraces, supports, and is confident in the leadership of the Rev. Fry. We look forward to hearing about the next ordained position into which she will step in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.

The events of this week point to the need for continued conversation and education on transgender leadership throughout the Episcopal Church. To aid in this process, IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal stand ready to offer a wide range of resources, including the short film Voices of Witness: Out of the Box (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzCANWGsEdc).

This weekend Transfiguration Sunday will be observed across The Episcopal Church. We will hear the story of how Jesus walked up a mountain and was transfigured beside Moses and Elijah before three bewildered disciples. Only in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus bend down, touch them, and say, “get up, and do not be afraid.”

This message could not be more timely today. As we stand together on God’s holy mountain, may we be strengthened to walk together through the challenges that lie before us, confident that in the process we will be changed into Christ’s likeness from glory to glory.

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real name and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted

5 Comments
  1. Elizabeth Kaeton

    Gwen has my prayers. That’s a promise.

    This, BTW, is why God’s Rainbow Tribe added the “T” to LGB. The process of transitioning (whether facing the truth about one’s own gender identity/expression or sexual orientation) and coming out (to self, family, friends, church, community, etc.) can be an exquisitely painful and lonely process. However, when a Queer person transitions and comes out, like it or not, so does everyone who knows them and/or loves them. It’s painful, difficult work of body, mind and spirit and everyone involved needs our love and support and prayers.

    So yes, please pray for Gwen but please also pray just as fervently for her wife, Lisa, both their congregations, the bishop and this diocese.

    The Episcopal Church is slowly, slowly, slowly transitioning and coming out as an institution of honesty and authenticity. May she continue to grow in wisdom and compassion and love.

  2. Gary Paul Gilbert

    Why did the relationship with the congregation have to be dissolved? Even after transition, Gwen will remain the same person.

    Is transitioning supposed to be done in hiding?

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  3. tgflux

    Clearly, we aren’t being told everything here.

    On Sunday, Rev Gwen Fry: “I invite us all to continue prayerfully walking together in faith” [Emph added]

    Today, “I fully support and agree with the bishop’s action of dissolution”.

    Together, or dissolution?

    Prayers for Rev Gwen—may the rest of her transition have less of a (at best) cloud-of-ambiguity around it!

    Trans people are made Trans-in-God’s-Image: may EVERYONE understand this. Maranatha!

    JC Fisher

  4. tgflux

    Oops, sorry about the double post— JCF

  5. Paul Woodrum

    Something is indeed missing: the reaction and attitude of the congregation and vestry to Mother Fry’s announcement.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *