'Support in Wales has been tremendous’: The transgender priest tackling myths about the church

  • Reverend Canon Sarah Jones: 'There are a lot more inclusive churches than you might think'

Reverend Canon Sarah Jones has been a parish priest at St John the Baptist Church in Cardiff for the last two-and-a-half years.

She was the first transgender priest to be ordained in the Church of England.

The Reverend said: "When I offered myself for ordination 20 years ago, I said at my very first interview, 'Look, there's this medical history that you need to know about'. And I really didn't know how they'd react. 

"And they were fine. I mean they were a little bit sort of, 'Oh, OK, we don't really know what to do, but give us some time, and we'll work it out'. And it did take them time, but they did work it out and eventually I was ordained.

"There have been some occasions where it's been made pretty plain to me that I wouldn't be welcome in a certain post and that people disagreed that I should even be ordained, but mostly and especially in Wales, the support has been tremendous."

Sarah was ordained in the Church of England 20 years ago.

In 2005 Sarah was outed to a national newspaper.

Since then, she wants the church to be seen as a welcoming place for people in the LGBTQ+ community.

She said: "I meet a lot of LGBT people who say they didn't think they would be welcome in a church. Sometimes people are quite tearful, I mean, they actually say, 'Oh, I always thought about going to church, but I really thought I would not be welcome.' 

"And so it is actually very nice to be able to say, look, there are different sorts of churches with different sorts of views on all sorts of things. But there are a lot more inclusive churches than you might think."

The Reverend wants the church to be seen as a welcoming place for people in the LGBTQ+ community.

The Reverend says she can also understand that some people may find it 'difficult' to see a trans priest in the Christian community and church.

Sarah said: "I understand that it's difficult for some people because we're brought up to think that there's men and there's women and there's kind of a gap between them and there's nothing else and why should anyone be an expert in this? 

"If they haven't lived through it, if they don't have a son or a daughter or a relative, or a work mate, why should they know?

"I guess everyone's entitled to their opinion. But I think most people just simply don't know anybody. 

"They've never worked with a trans person - or if they have, they've not realised it. 

"I think actually, meeting people is really important and finding out how it really is, is really important."

Sarah has been described as an LGBTQ+ 'hero' by her peers in the church.

The Reverend has now been honoured by Attitude Magazine for the work she's done for the LGBTQ+ community.

"The nomination came as a bit of a surprise actually, they sent me an email out of the blue and I still don't know who put me forward for the award", Sarah added.

"It's just such a nice thing though to get an email saying you know if we gave you this, would you feel you'd accept it and it took about two seconds to just tap back: 'Yes, I would!'

"If I could make someone just feel that they would be welcome in a church somewhere in Wales or in the United Kingdom, or in the faith community, or even a member of of another faith, gosh, that would be a really good thing."

Sarah is a parish priest at St John the Baptist Church in Cardiff city centre.

Reverend Canon Jones also says it's good for people to 'challenge the notions' and debate and discuss whether God has a gender.

She said: "We're very used to talking about God as 'He' and obviously Jesus was a man and referred to God as 'father', and I get that but when we think about anything to do with God, the limits of our human imagination and our language, we just run out of understanding, I mean, how can we possibly describe God.

"And when you really think about it, does God really have a body? I don't think so, so could God really be 'He', just genuinely like a guy?

"I don't think so and I think if God created everything, God's beyond all of these boundaries so whatever God is, I really don't think God is a standard 'He'.

"I would absolutely say that God is non-binary in the sense that God is neither male nor female and I think it's helpful.

"It's not just helpful for the queer community, I think whether you're straight or gay or whatever you are, the fact that God is not equivocally male perhaps is actually quite helpful in our understanding of humanity."