We’re collecting services at the moment at Changing Attitude, England. We’re collating examples of liturgies that celebrate same-gender unions. We also want to upload liturgies to celebrate someone’s gender transition.
In fact we’ve been looking out for Trans liturgies for some time. Here is a link to a United States example I came across on the internet:
Three months ago – and my apologies for the delay in writing this – The Telegraph reported the heart-warming story of Susan Musgrove’s experience with her local church, St Andrew’s, Corbridge, Northumberland.
Susan, who had been known to members of her local church for decades, began her transition in 2010. Three years on she needed “the stone and wood and ceremony of an Anglican church,” particularly her local church, “to make … [her] transition feel real.”
And her local church did not let her down. Her vicar, the Revd David Hewlett discussed her proposal with the Bishop of Newcastle who allowed them to go ahead with the service. It was drawn up by the curate, the Revd Julie Robson, with assistance from the Revd Cecilia Eggleston, of the Metropolitan Community Church, Newcastle Upon Tyne who gave the address.
The short, moving service is called, Emerging into the light: A service of affirmation and blessing for Susan Musgrove. Susan has given me permission to upload it here.
Although Susan’s story hit the national press my impression is that, in the last decade, churches have become much more welcoming places for trans people. The celebration of a rite of transition might be a little more unusual, but let’s hope that it will catch on. Here is a photo of Susan being anointed by her vicar during the ceremony.
In the late 1990s, when the Sibyls – Christian spirituality for transgender people – was founded, it was often a refuge for trans people who had been rejected by their churches. Many factors, among them the Gender Recognition Act 2004, have helped change that hostile culture into one that is more hospitable and welcoming for trans people.
We’re not there yet of course – for example, there are still anomalies for trans people in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which one of us will be writing about here. But that there has been progress can’t be denied and I have written about this, in relation to marriage and ordination in the Church of England, in an article that has just been published in a special issue of Crucible: The Christian Journal of Social Ethics edited by Dr Susannah Cornwall.
As well as a rite for same-sex couples, the Church of England needs a rite to mark someone’s transition. We’ve known this for several years, and at one stage the LGB&T Anglican Coalition began to explore what both might look like.
A trans rite can be used, as Susan’s was, to mark the later stages of transition, or, like the one at the start of this post, to mark the person’s name change, which is usually one of the first steps of the journey.
Name changes often occur in the Bible – Sarai becomes Sarah; Jacob becomes Israel; Naomi becomes Mara; Simon becomes Peter; Saul becomes Paul – to indicate change or precipitate growth and transformation. Susan’s service included a beautiful worship song on the latter themes, which begins, very poignantly, with these words:
I will change your name
You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
Amen to a Church that can celebrate that aspect of God. Here’s a link to the whole song: