By Anugrah Kumar
India's first transgender pastor, a 25-year-old who is in charge of a small congregation in the southern city of Chennai, is from a leading evangelical denomination, whose bishop cautiously says his church's constitution does not bar a transgender from being ordained.
Pastor Bharathi, known only by her first name, is openly transgender and she is leading a congregation in Chengalpattu area on the suburbs of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, Bishop Ezra Sargunam, head of the Evangelical Church of India, told The Christian Post.
Asked if the ECI has made a policy decision to allow the ordination of transgenders, Bishop Sargunam said the church's constitution is silent on it.
However, the 74-year-old bishop, who accepted Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade in Chennai at the age of 18, indicated that Bharathi ‘s ordination should not be seen as his church's policy statement.
The decision to ordain her was purely based on her exceptional conduct and devotion, he said.
Bharathi, who has been a pastor for eight months, is well accepted by her congregation, and "we found that she was sure of her calling and mission," Sargunam said.
"Even the people of her community [non-Christians] saw her as a goddess."
Transgenders are generally ostracized in the Indian society.
Bharathi was born and raised as a boy but she saw herself as a girl which made life difficult for her. "A sister at a church near our home took pity on me and took me in," Bharathi recently told a national daily, The Times of India.
"I started reading the Bible and praying in church every day. I converted when I was 12 and was baptized a few years later in 2000."
The pastor says she was "deeply touched" by the acceptance she found in the church at large and particularly by her congregation, which has about 45 members. "I have conducted two baby showers for families and even named a child. Though I do not have a license to conduct a wedding, a parishioner printed my name on his wedding invitation."
After being ordained a pastor, she started ministering to other Transgenders in her locality.
"I have formed a team to work with me among Transgenders in Chengalpattu, to bring them into the church and help them stay out of trouble," she said.
No church or denomination in India has objected to Bharathi ‘s ordination.
Asked if his church would be open to ordain gays and lesbians also, Bishop Sargunam said, "I don't think we'll go for that."
Sargunam was elected first bishop of the fully autonomous ECI and was consecrated in 1993. The ECI has about 1,500 churches across India, and sends missionaries to Singapore and Malaysia.