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Bishop's Plot To Appoint Divorced, Sex-changed Pastor Foiled By Methodist Men and Pastor's Resignation

An Identity Gained, a Ministry Lost
Pastor's Revelation Put Church in Quandary

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 14, 2002; Page C01


  • His life, as a man, was over. The Rev. Richard A. Zomastny, pastor of Rockville United Methodist Church and father of three, had made up his mind and was delivering the news to his superior: He was getting a divorce -- and changing physically into a woman....

  • The fall 1999 meeting went as well as could be expected. Bishop Felton Edwin May was "very compassionate, understanding," the pastor recalled. The two agreed on a plan, which was to be kept secret. Zomastny would continue as pastor at the Rockville church for the remainder of the year, then take a medical leave of absence. No date was set for a return to active ministry....

  • Leaving the pulpit of Rockville United Methodist Church was understandable. But Steen, 47, believed, or hoped, that her 17 years as a successful pastor in Edgewater, Thurmont and Rockville would ensure her an appointment under a new identity. After her sex-change operation, in May 2000 in Thailand, she hoped to be ready for reappointment July 1, the beginning of the church year.....

  • She[he] was unemployed, and May said he "would help me find a job," Steen said. He told her to call the church's missionary office in New York, where Steen was told there might be a temporary job in Angola. "I said to myself, 'No . . . Angola is not a good place for a transgendered woman to be.' "....

  • Steen said she eventually lost trust in May. She called him "a good politician trying to keep peace in the conference. . . . Unfortunately, I've been lost in the process."....

  • Last spring, Hawkins [president United Methodist Men] wrote an e-mail "detailing the Rebecca Steen story and asking for help in how to stem the tide." The e-mail was forwarded to more than 1,000 clergy and lay people registered for the conference's convention in June. Many were unaware of the board's decision approving Steen's return from leave, he said, and he was afraid May would quietly appoint her to an unsuspecting congregation.

  • "The bishop called me into his office . . . and dressed me down royally for an hour and a half, calling me disloyal and to stop sticking my nose into personnel matters," recalled Hawkins, a lay member. "It was quite demeaning."

  • "Today I [Steen] must do something I believed I never would do," she told them. "I must withdraw from the ordained ministry of the church I love with all my heart."

  • May said there was "unexpected surprise" in the room, then regret but also a sense of relief....

The rest of the story: An Identity Gained, a Ministry Lost (washingtonpost.com)

2002 The Washington Post Company


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