Transgender Visibility and the Church

Today happens to be International Transgender Visibility Day of Visibility.

As yet, I’ve heard nothing today from anyone from a faith background. No bishops making statements either positive or negative, no-one threatening to leave a denomination over it, no statements at all really.

It seems to me that it is worth me going on record to say that St Mary’s is a church which has transgender people connected to it.

I suspect that wouldn’t particularly surprise anyone. Most people will shrug and say “oh, that’s just St Mary’s for you”

However, I think it is worth my while saying that each of the three church communities that I’ve been part of since ordination has had transgender people as members of their communities. I’ve also met trans men and trans women in both of my times working in university chaplaincy. This has made me conclude that being transgender is a more common thing than I used to presume and it really is surprising that the church has nothing much to say about it.

Members of the body of Christ are transgender.

I’ve had to learn a lot as I’ve listened to people with that experience tell me about their lives.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that some of the very common narratives that I have become used to hearing from lesbian and gay people of faith don’t really map onto transgender experience very well.

Many many times, I’ve heard stories from gay and lesbian people of alienation and frustration within church communities which I’ve met by saying, “Well, I don’t think God makes mistakes – God made you attracted to the people you are attracted to and God doesn’t make mistakes”.

However, that doesn’t really work for people who are on a trans journey. Not quite anyway. I’ve changed what I say a bit and now I think that I’d be more likely to say is that the essential truth is that God loves us as we really, truly are.

Transgender people and those who are close to them are welcome at St Mary’s. I’d like to think that people already know that but I guess that with the silence I hear from the wider church it is worth saying out loud. The fact that I’ve known people with this experience in very different religious communities to the one I now lead gives me some hope.

So – God bless all transgender people on this day of transgender visibility.

God blesses the whole church through them.

The Affirmation of a Transgender Person

There’s yet more debate online about people calling for a special service to be approved by the Church of England in order to recognise and support someone following their transition from one gender to another.

I happen to think that it would be an interesting thing for the Church of England to consider. However, we’re lucky in Scotland that we’ve already agreed a form of service that could be used as an affirmation for transgender people.

Here are some of the prayers:

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS
The president says
God of mercy and love,
new birth by water and the Spirit is your gift,
a gift none can take away;
grant that your servants may grow
into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
Fill them with the joy of your presence.
Increase in them the fruit of your Spirit:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of love, patience and gentleness,
the spirit of wonder and true holiness.
The president lays hands on the candidate in silence, and then says
Come, Creator Spirit,
rekindle in N. your gifts of grace,
to love and serve as a disciple of Christ.
Amen.

Renew her/his life in Christ
and bring to completion all that your calling has begun.
Amen.

Either continuing the laying on of hands, or anointing the candidate
with the Oil of Chrism, the president says:

Empower your disciple, N.,
to bring life to the world.
Amen.

At the conclusion of the laying on of hands
the president says
Living God, sustain all your people
to be hope and strength to the world;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Amen

The congregation share communion.

The president addresses the congregation:

The light of Christ is within you. Shine as a light in the world.
As the seed grows secretly in the earth,
As the yeast rises in the dough,
May the power of God be at work in us.
Like a city on a hill,
Like a lamp in the darkness,
May we witness to the glory of the kingdom.

It seems to me that as we’ve already agreed these prayers, there’s going to be no fuss about it at all in Scotland whereas there might be in Englandshire. I’d be very happy to conduct this service for anyone who has completed their gender transition and who wants to express their faith publicly in their new identity.

The great news is that the service is available to cis people at moments when they want to express publicly the renewal of their faith too. Indeed, some of these prayers were used at a particular point in my own life when I came into ministry in St Mary’s nine years ago. We don’t discriminate and so this service is available for all God’s children whether they are trans or not.

The service can be found online here:
http://www.scotland.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/affirmation-of-holy-baptism-2006.pdf