Iowa church split over transgender member

BY admin

April 23 2005 12:00 AM ET

A division has apparently developed at Messiah Lutheran Church in Charles City, Iowa, after the church council asked a transgender couple not to attend.

Renee and Mayetta Usher, who have been legally married for 40 years, received the letter delivered by the Reverend Allan Simms, telling them the church council had reached "a verbal agreement" that the couple be asked not to attend. "He said, 'I've got some bad news for you people,' " Mayetta related. "And then he handed us the letter."

Simms told the Ushers he does not agree with the council decision and has offered to give them Communion at home, they said.

Renee Usher, 61--formerly Michael Usher, a native of Charles City who grew up in Nashua--said she felt for years she was a female in a man's body. "I had to pretend to be a male," said Renee, who worked at White Farm Equipment Co. until 1987. Renee Usher changed her legal name and sex about 10 years ago. "I think that's why they're having this trouble," she said. "Because for years I appeared as a man and worked like a man."

At Messiah, Mayetta, 56, and Renee have been taking classes to become Lutherans to join the church. Mayetta joined the choir. Both attended adult Sunday school and recently volunteered to clean the fellowship hall, they said. Mayetta said she and Renee have made friends at the church who have expressed support for them.

The Ushers are now looking for another church to join "because we were both raised to go to church, and we don't feel comfortable staying home on Sundays," Mayetta said. "We want to find some place to worship. It's always been a part of our lives. It's just been important to us."

Church member Dean Andrews, whose wife, Marcie, is a member of the church council, said the council would meet Friday night "to discuss this situation." Andrews, the church choir director, said many church members are concerned with the church council's action. "The council took this position because they'd had some council members contact them with complaints," he said. "Since then, there's been some discussion among church members that this [the action of the church council] was not right."

Andrews said there are probably just as many members who disagree with the council action as agree with it. "You can't kick somebody out of church because of someone's lifestyle," Andrews said. "You may not agree with their lifestyle, but they still have the right to worship God."

Mayetta said she and Renee were aware of a few people at Messiah Lutheran who were uncomfortable with them being there, "but they didn't say they just plain didn't want us. I wish the people that don't understand it would come and talk to us. They're so quick to judge and not try to understand it at all. We just want to go somewhere we can be accepted, where we can go in and worship, join the congregation, and be treated like any other women." (AP)

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