Paula Stone Williams is one of the most influential people in my life.
And that’s pretty impressive because I’ve known her for less than a year.
I was introduced Paula through a mutual pastor friend around the same time I was preparing to step down from my own pastoral role at my former church in Arizona. Paula has a long and highly successful history in church planting and leadership development, and so our mutual friend thought she would be a good resource for me as I prepared to step out into the unknown.
And our mutual friend was quite right.
Paula immediately became a valuable connection, introducing me to a number of her (vast array of) ministry friends and partners.
She also began to invest in me from a leadership development standpoint. As an expert in the DiSC profile and personality assessment, she walked me through a process to better understand my own leadership strengths and weaknesses. That information has been incredibly helpful as Amy and I have prayerfully sought to discern our next area of ministry.
In the time since being introduced to her, I have continued to learn from Paula, reading her book on the DiSC profile and church planting, listening to some of her messages and lectures at various churches and conferences, and following her always compelling blog.
But the area that I continue to turn to her most often for insight and information is the same area that has been the focus of my own blog of late: LGBTQ inclusion.
You see, LGBTQ affirmation in the Church is a topic that Paula knows quite a bit about. And it happens to be an issue that is very near and dear to her heart. Because there is something important about Paula that I have failed to mention up to this point.
Paula is a transgender Christian.
As much as I hope that people are willing to listen to my own testimony on the topic of LGBTQ affirmation in the church, as well as that of other straight cisgender persons, I think it’s imperative that the voices of actual LGBTQ Christians lead the way in this debate.
That’s why I spent a good portion of my most recent post highlighting the written contributions of a number of influential LGBTQ Christians.
But, in addition to drawing your attention to some of the work that the Christians LGBTQ community has produced, I also wanted to offer a fuller picture of a handful of LGBTQ voices who have been especially important to me.
Paula is one of those voices.
Therefore, in the rest of this post, I am going to try to let Paula speak in her own words by sharing with you from her own writing and speaking ventures. A lot of this information will come from her excellent blog which she updates with some regularity.
And so with minimal further interruption from me, I give you Paula Stone Williams.
“For 35 years I worked with the Orchard Group, a church planting ministry in New York. For most of that time I was Chairman and CEO. For 12 years I served as a weekly columnist and Editor-At-Large for Christian Standard magazine. I was also a teaching pastor for two megachurches. Those responsibilities ended when I transitioned to live as Paula.
I currently serve with RLT Pathways, Inc. http://rltpathways.com as a pastoral counselor, church and non-profit consultant, writer and speaker. I am actively involved with OPEN, a ministry of progressive Evangelicals, and the Center for Progressive Renewal, a ministry of Convergence. I am also an active member at Highlands Church in Denver, Colorado.
I am a runner, hiker, and avid mountain biker. The first two are relatively safe. The third, not so much. Still, I pedal. I have been blessed with three children and five granddaughters. Cathy and I were together for over 40 years, and we still enjoy a close relationship.”
It’s important to recognize that Paula’s amazing teaching, preaching, and leadership gifts did not mysteriously disappear when she transitioned. Nor did her vibrant Christian faith suddenly fade away.
In fact, despite the fact that many (most) of her connections to the broader evangelical church were severed overnight (and not by her), Paula’s story is especially compelling because of how clearly the Holy Spirit is still working in and through her work and ministry.
She will go into more detail about these things in some of the videos I’ll share below. But I feel as if the ongoing presence of the Spirit in and through her life serve as one of the most potent arguments against the so-called traditional position (more on that in a post tomorrow, hint hint).
I talked about the Spirit a lot in my posts on biblical arguments for LGBTQ inclusion. In Paula we have a clear example of the beautiful work I was referring to.
Paula is a gifted teacher and preacher. She preaches often at Highlands Church in Denver, Colorado and will be part of the teaching team at a new church plant launching in Colorado in the near future.
In the videos I will share below, Paula goes into greater detail about her own story, but also provides incredibly helpful information about transgender identity.
While I strived to address the entire LGBTQ+ community (including intersex) in my posts, the frame of reference that most people have on this issue is often limited to gay, lesbian, and (occasionally) bisexual persons.
And so in the videos below, Paula offers much needed clarity about the dynamics of transgender identity and how important it is that the voice of transgender persons be heard in the church today.
This first video is of Paula speaking at One Church in Chandler, AZ. Both the founding pastor of One Church, Ryan Gear, and the current lead pastor, Aaron Strietzel, are close friends of mine and have been incredibly important throughout my current season of transition.
Paula also serves as a board member for the Gay Christian Network and was a keynote speaker at the recent GCN Conference in January. I discussed GCN over the weekend when I introduced readers to the work of Justin Lee.
This next video includes Paula’s incredibly well received keynote (as well as a talk from Justin Lee). Paula’s talk starts around minute 54, but the entire video is worth watching if you have time.
*Note, I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the embedded video so if it won’t play for you or if you want to jump straight to Paula’s talk, try this link*
Below are also links to two more videos of Paula talking about transgender identity in the church, both taken from the OPEN Network Conference that took place last fall. OPEN is a coalition of progressive leaning (and LGBTQ affirming) evangelical churches and last year witnessed their second annual national conference.
The first of these two videos contains much of the same content as the two shared above but there are a few new wrinkles as well which makes it worth watching.
But the second is a joint session with Paula and her son Jonathan, who is the pastor of a great church in New York City. This second session is a much-watch, and offers important and powerful insight into the more personal elements of Paula’s journey.
Lastly, I wanted to link to a fairly comprehensive post that Paula has featured on the main menu bar of her personal site/blog. This post addresses Transgender inclusion in the Church more broadly and includes a lot of great commentary and personal insight.
As with my previous posts on LGBTQ inclusion, I realize the information provided here might not answer every question you have on transgender identity. However, I’d encourage you to take advantage of what I have included.
Paula is an amazing resource. She covered a lot of ground in the videos I shared above. And her blog is worth reading extensively. Even if you still struggle wrapping your mind around transgender identity, I trust you’ll find many of Paula’s posts enlightening and challenging. Her insight goes well beyond the topic of LGBTQ affirmation.
Some of you may be tiring of this topic (though I’d hope not), but we still have a few more posts to go.
And most of them will be much like this one, with me highlighting the work of LGBTQ Christians and, as best as I can, allowing them to speak in their own words.
In the mean time I hope the work of Paula Stone Williams blesses you as much as it’s blessed me.
Grace and peace.