A service of affirmation and blessing for a Trans person

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:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/01/liturgical-naming-rite-for-a-transgendered-church-member/

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.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10018144/After-my-sex-change-Im-now-a-woman-in-the-eyes-of-God.html

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.

Order of Service- (1)

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.

Susan Musgrove being anointed

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.

http://susannahcornwall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/special-issue-of-crucible-on-sexuality.html

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyhsSFT6A5k

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Strange that in the biblical examples you cite, not a single name change is precipitated by gender.

    Why must a masculine gender entail having a male sexual organ? Why must a feminine gender entail the removal of the male organ? It all sounds very heterosexist to me. You know, that sex-gender dichotomy bias that is blamed for homosexual bullying.

    • Christina Beardsley says

      Agreed, David, the biblical name changes do not seem to indicate a change of gender: gender transitions, including changes of name sometimes, occur in classical mythology rather than in Scripture. Nevertheless, in the Bible, transitions, in the broader sense, are often marked by a change of name and that’s the point I was making here.
      With regard to your question, genital surgery is in no way necessary to gender transition and many people transition without taking up that option. Heterosexism and the sex/gender dichotomy can be just as problematic for trans people, and in Changing Attitude, England we try to avoid – not always easy – splitting by modelling the solidarity of LGB&T people in the struggle for equality while acknowledging the tensions that can sometimes accompany this. It’s worth noting too that Susan is herself an organiser in her local Pride.

  2. Clare says

    This is beautiful, Tina. When I was transitioning 15 years ago I longed for some kind of spiritual ‘rite of passage’ ceremony to mark my birth as my true self. At the time it seemed like no one else was remotely interested in seeing transition as a spiritual act, but it always felt that way to me. I just wish the kind of loving generosity indicated by Susan’s experience was more consistent across the Church, especially when it comes to trans people in relationships. Whatever combination of genders are involved, there are always some Christians somewhere who think it’s sinful, selfish and hedonistic and this will no doubt continue long after Equal Marriage has become unremarkably normative in secular society. I have found that were I in a relationship with a man I would have to hide my gender history from my church community, but if I were in a relationship with a woman I would have to hide the relationship entirely from my church community. It often feels like a no-win double-bind. Such partial hiding of oneself is continually wounding as I know from experience. But rejection by one’s church is worse. (Yet in heaven there is no male or female so ultimately it’s all moot.)

    Congrats to Susan and her vicar for a most brave and moving ceremony.

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