“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of such a great crowd of witnesses,” said Beeson, the pastor at St. Mathew Trinity Lutheran Church “The congregation has been incredibly accepting.”
Beeson became pastor at St. Mathew Trinity in 2014. He said he came out to a few individuals at different points of time, but it wasn’t until last summer when he decided to share his identity with a group from the congregation.
“In the summer, we did a nine-week storytelling series in which we asked individuals to share a time in their lives in which God may have brought them new life or new hope or healing,” he said. “Some of the people involved in worship planning asked me to tell my story. It’s hard to turn it down when we had been asking others to do the same.”
He said after he shared his story, the church leadership formed a committee to address how best to share the information with the wider community.
“Given the politics of the past few years and the increase in violence against transgender people, we thought it was crucial that the church speak up and say we believe in the expansiveness of god’s grace and be a vocal and welcoming presence,” said Beeson. “We at St. Matthew Trinity have a long tradition of acting for justice and peace. And in following in that tradition, we needed to be vocal about our faith and say, ‘Christians believe you are beloved children of god whether you are trans, a single mother, or a gay or lesbian couple. All are welcome here.’ ”
Beeson said that he has found the Lutheran faith to be accepting and his congregation to be supportive.
“I think at the basis it gets down to how we read the bible,” said Beeson. “When I look at the teachings of Jesus, Jesus was always reaching out to the people who were marginalized and excluded and saying God’s love is more expansive then we as humans like to think.”
Beeson said he had been struggling with his identity since his teens.
“It’s a journey that I’ve been on for a long time,” said Beeson. “I became more cognoscente in my late teens and really my early 20s, but there was such limited representation of transgender men in media. Remember, this is before YouTube, and their limited representation was deeply violent. It was enough to make me push that awareness to the back of my mind.”
Beeson grew up in Tucson, Ariz. and attended Christian private school. Growing up, he didn’t know any LGBT people.
But he said he could no longer ignore his identity.
“It kept resurfacing and coming up again and again to the point where I was realizing that I was spending the majority of my time trying to ignore it and push it away,” said Beeson.
The Sunday worship and renaming ceremony at St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church was led by Rev. Tracie Bartholomew, bishop of the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in which Beeson was renamed Peter before the congregation at the baptismal font.
“It was a remembrance or affirmation of my previous baptism which reintroduced me to God under this new name,” said Beeson. “It’s kind of like when a couple on their 50th wedding anniversary will renew their vows.”
“Jesus was always reaching out to the people who were marginalized and excluded.”—Peter Beeson
Beeson said picking a name was difficult.
“I chose the name Peter after having a conversation with a former seminary classmate,” said Beeson. “We ran through a list of names and none felt like they quite seemed to fit. And as soon as my classmate suggested Peter, it stuck.”
He further explained, “I was influenced by the story of Simon Peter from the Bible and Peter’s persistence. Simon Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples, and in scripture, he changed his name from Simon to Peter, which means rock. And Jesus said, ‘From this rock I will build my church.’ ”
According to Beeson, this is one of the first times a transgender pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has had a renaming ceremony and had the public at large as witnesses.
“From what we can find to the best of our research in most other cases, other pastors had already been out as trans before being called to the faith,” said Beeson. “I am lucky that the congregation and the people of Hoboken have been very supportive. Maybe it’s because we are so close to New York City and in a metropolitan area, but I find Hoboken to be a diverse and welcoming community.”
Beeson said the majority of members of the community have reached out to him with congratulations and support, but “of course there are a few trolls but I just ignore them.”
Beeson said there were a few comments made online, but “so far the policy is to ignore them and focus on the people asking for help, advice, and a place of worship.”
Not the first
Beeson is not the first high-profile person to transition in Hoboken.
In 1995, Police Lt. John Aiello began transitioning to Janet. In the spring of 1995, Aiello told his superiors that when he returned from his leave, it would be as a woman.
Aiello retired from the force in 1997 as part of a confidential settlement with the city and the HPD over gender bias, according to an interview she gave to the Hudson Reporter in 2008.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.