Rev. Dr. Megan M. Rohrer is a transgender and gay pastor, activist, and passionate leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In May 2021, Rohrer became the first transgender bishop in a major Christian tradition in the U.S. Megan was born April 3, 1980 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Megan’s family was Lutheran and the most important church services for them were in their grandmother’s home. The church Megan’s family attended, St. Paul Lutheran, had a female pastor that the congregation assumed was a lesbian (although she did not openly identify as lesbian publicly).
As a young adult in high school, Megan was involved in the church youth group and was strongly encouraged to pursue ministry. Another individual in the church outed Megan as gay to the youth director and the church kicked Megan out of the congregation.
In 1998 Megan graduated from high school and enrolled in Augustana College, a private Evangelical Lutheran school in South Dakota, to study religion. In 1999, while serving as president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Augustana, Megan held a screening of the movie, “Call To Witness,” a documentary that serves to educate the ELCA on the struggles and experiences of LGBT members and leaders. Megan organized a forum along with the screening that was attended by several people from the documentary, including Pam Walton and Jeff Johnson. In reaction to the screening other students became violent and aggressive towards Megan and the guests of the forum. They said they would hang gay people from the goal posts on the athletic field, and would bang on Megan’s door at night threatening to rape them straight. When Megan went to class other students would sing hymns or throw holy water on Megan to, “heal”, them. Megan moved off of campus and graduated in 2001.
The campus pastor at Augustana encouraged Megan to pursue the candidacy process in the ELCA. The local Synod office offered for Megan to meet several celibate gay and lesbian pastors to discern whether Megan could be celibate and pursue ordination. Megan did not want to lie in order to pursue candidacy and did not like being coached to navigate questions around sexuality in the candidacy interview.
Megan decided to pause the ordination process and worked for a year in social work at a children’s shelter. One child in the shelter who was six years old and had attempted suicide twelve times told Megan that he was trying to kill himself before he became so bad that he would go to hell. In this moment Megan realized that they wanted to become a pastor in the Lutheran church so that kids could hear a different message from the pulpit.
In 2002, Megan began seminary at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Megan also took a position as director of a ministry to homeless persons, Welcome Ministry housed in Old First Presbyterian Church, San Francisco. She continues to serve that ministry.
While at PLTS Megan was one of a few openly gay seminarians and witnessed many people being closeted as a result of church policy, social stigma, or intersecting issues such as document and visa status. Megan decided to transfer to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California in 2004. At this time 70% of PSR’s student body identified as LGBTQIA which felt like a stronger community for Megan to be studying within.
Megan was one of the pastors to participate in the extraordinary candidacy process in the ECLA. Megan was ordained in 2006 and was the first person to openly identify as transgender in this candidacy process. During this time the ECLA expelled and censured several congregations in San Francisco for participating in the extraordinary candidacy process to ordain, affirm, or call LGBTQ pastors.
In 2009, Megan attended the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis and slept on the streets to raise awareness of experiences of homelessness. Megan spoke to the Assembly about how many homeless youth had come to San Francisco to escape religious persecution in their towns of origin. Erma Wolf, the founder of Word Alone (an anti-gay organization), approached Megan at the Assembly. Erma told Megan that if the church focused on ministries such as Megan’s, it would be going in the right direction. She asked to pray together and Megan agreed, even though they were both aware that they would be praying for conflicting outcomes on the Assembly’s vote on LGBT issues.
Megan recalls that day with because right after the assembly voted to change policy to include LGBTQ pastors by a vote of 66.6 percent, the building was also hit by a tornado.
After the Assembly Megan and Erma were invited to collaborate on a blog together and reflect and respond to the changes in the church. The wider church felt that their collaboration would be a prime example of how to relate and stay united through difference and disagreement.
In 2010, the Council of U.S Bishops created a Rite of Reconciliation to address the situation of pastors who had been barred prior to the change in policy. This rite served to receive and reinstall pastors to the ECLA roster. On July 25, 2010 Megan and six others were officially received and reinstated to the ELCA roster at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco—150 clergy presided, 900 people attended with 700 more on live-stream. Ironically, St. Mark’s had been the site of the 1990 trial that had expelled and censured congregations who had called openly and non-celibate LGBT pastors.
From 2010 onward, Megan has helped lead several different ministries and social justice projects. This includes the Urban Share Community Gardening Project, the Free Farm to produce local vegetables to residents in S.F, the Growing Home Community Garden, and the Community of Travelers (a spiritual theological group at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, SF). She co-edited the book Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect (2011) with Zander Keig. Megan has also helped write and coordinate several services that incorporate contemporary music including Masses centered on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, and 80’s music.
In 2014, Megan was installed as pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of San Francisco. Megan describes this congregation as a wonderful place to heal and one of the most welcoming communities they have ever been a part of. Megan intends to continue working with this congregation, as well as begin several projects that address the experiences and needs of transgender seminarians in the ECLA.
In May 2021, Rohrer came before the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA as a candidate for bishop and was elected. Rohrer was installed as bishop of the 200-congregation synod on September 11, 2021 at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek, California. Rohrer spoke about this experience with the Episcopal News Service: “If there are people who are curious about why or how the Lutherans could elect a transgender person as our bishop, I deeply hope that curiosity they have will inspire them to notice all the wonderful ways God sometimes is able to do more than we noticed, with more people than we thought possible and in more places than we imagined.”
(This biographical statement written by Sonny Duncan from an interview with Rev. Megan Roher; additional information added from news sources below.)
Biography Date: March, 2014; rev. 2021
The ELCA News Service announced Rohrer's election as bishop on May 10, 2021:
The Religion News Service and Associated Press posted this story about bishop-elect Rohrer on May 10, 2021: https://apnews.com/article/il-state-wire-religion-6c7c25f40661a617d69063d4358dacd7
The Washington Post published this story about bishop-elect Rohrer on May 13, 2021:
National Public Radio aired this interview with bishop-elect Rohrer on May 16, 2021:
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Activist (religious institutions) | Clergy Activist | Trans activism | California | San Francisco
“Rev.. Dr. Megan Rohrer | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed June 27, 2022, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/megan-rohrer.