"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves
with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave
or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in
Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's
offspring, heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:27-29 (NRSV)
Name Change Liturgies and Trans People: a Church of England Perspective
This morning resolution D036 ("Adding a Name Change Rite to the Book of Occasional Services") was passed by its legislative committee and now heads to the House of Bishops, where it should be on their calendar tomorrow (and will subsequently need to pass the House of Deputies). As we await the forward movement of this resolution, TransEpiscopal is pleased to share this reflection from The Revd Dr. Christina Beardsley of the Church of England about how the Church of England is going through its own process regarding a name change liturgy. The major difference between D036 and the C of E's is that ours is not specifically a trans name change resolution, whereas theirs is in fact intended to be. TransEpiscopal is very glad that D036 proposes a rite broadly applicable to many people. At the same time, we are also glad to see that another part of the Anglican Communion is thinking about name change liturgies in connection with trans people. The Spirit seems to be moving in the midst of all of this, and we look forward to seeing what emerges.
Diocesan Synod Motion on Liturgies for Transgender People
A Blog Post for TransEpsicopal by the Revd Dr Christina
Attitude, England trustee for trans people)
First of all, thank you for inviting me
to post again on the TransEpisocpal blog, and I’m sorry not to be joining the
TransEpiscopal delegation at General Convention in Salt Lake City in July. I
loved being with you in Indianapolis in 2012, and was so pleased and proud when
the transgender non-discrimination resolutions were approved then.
Revd Dr. Christina Beardsley at the 77th General Convention
It would have been exciting to be
present at this year’s General Convention, when name change liturgies are being considered because, as you’ve no doubt heard, the General
Synod of the Church of England will also be discussing this … at a date to be
confirmed; but discuss this matter it will, at some point.
Let me explain – just a little – how
governance works in the Church of England. Unlike TEC, with its triennial
meetings of the General Convention, the Church of England’s General Synod meets
twice, sometimes three times a year, depending on its current business load.
The meetings are held in February (in London), July (in York) and, if need be,
in November (in London); they usually last three to four days.
General Synod is composed of three houses:
Bishops, Clergy and Laity. The three Houses can, and do, meet separately – the
House of Bishops (diocesans plus elected suffragans, plus, for the moment,
elected women clergy representatives) and the College of Bishops (diocesans, suffragans,
plus the elected women clergy) meet regularly at other times – but most of
General Synod’s business and debating is conducted with members of all three
houses present in the chamber, even if they subsequently vote by houses.
The Church of England’s synodical structure is made up of Deanery Synods (composed of laity elected by the
parishes, plus the licensed clergy of the deanery), Diocesan Synods (composed
of clergy and laity, elected respectively by the clergy and lay members of the
deanery synods) and General Synod (also elected by the clergy and lay members of
deanery synods). There are a number of additional constituencies as well,
including cathedral deans and universities.
The opportunity to vote in Church
elections is something I feel strongly about having been disenfranchised for at
least four years as a consequence of my transition in 2001. It felt dreadful to
be excluded from this important aspect of Church life, and I would urge anyone
who has a vote to use it, wisely and well.
There will be elections to the General
Synod in 2015 and much is happening to ensure that people with inclusive views
are elected on this occasion. Synod members serve for five years, and it was soon
apparent that some of those who served during the last quinquennium had not
been transparent about their views when they stood as candidates. That period
was dominated by the debates on the consecration of women as bishops, and given
the struggle that entailed, some of those who had claimed, as candidates, to
‘favour’ women’s ministry, evidently did not equate that conviction with their inclusion
in the episcopate.
It will also be the new General Synod
that will discuss the following motion from the Blackburn Diocesan Synod:
“That this Synod,
recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in
their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some
nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's
The Church of England’s synodical
structure is a two-way street. General Synod can send matters for discussion to
Diocesan and Deanery Synods, as it did with Women Bishops. Likewise, a Deanery
Synod can send a successful motion to its Diocesan Synod for debate and, if
approved there, on for discussion by the General Synod, as has happened in this
The story of the Blackburn motion is
one of grassroots Christian response. A young man approached his local church
for baptism, following gender transition, but he had already been baptised, so
the parish priest, the Revd Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster Priory, worked
with him to produce a suitable rite to mark this significant change in his
life. Realising that this scenario must be occurring in other places, Chris brought
it to the attention of his church council, and then his Deanery Synod (Lancaster
and Morecambe), where a motion was passed, and sent on to the Blackburn
Diocesan Synod. I prepared the background paper for the Blackburn Diocesan
Synod debate, which is available here:
After receiving Diocesan Synod
approval, the motion was sent on to the General Synod. It is now parked in a
list of such motions which you can find here. It will be for the General Synod’s
Business Committee to decide when to schedule it for debate, and one can
anticipate delay, maybe until the regional Shared Conversations are complete.
the meantime there has been press interest in the motion, the most sensitive
piece coming, naturally, from the Guardianwith a companion piece by the Revd Giles Fraser, who mentions the late Revd Carol Stone (Carol and I were at
theological college together, though neither was aware that the other was trans
at that date – 1976-78). The Guardian article also mentions
Susan Musgrove’s Service of Affirmation and Blessing, which took place in her
parish church in Northumberland in 2013, and which I blogged about at the time (here).
Services of this kind, therefore, are
happening already and have been for some time. Will the General Synod have the
courage to invite the House of Bishops to explore and commend forms of prayer
for Church of England parishes that wish to celebrate with and affirm their
transgender congregants and parishioners? I do hope so, given that parish
clergy are already recognising and responding to a pastoral need.
Chris Newlands was interviewed about
the motion on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme (which covers religious current
affairs) on the 24th May 2015. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll be able
to access the link but I’ll include it just in case (here). The interview begins at 6
minutes 58 seconds.
Chris is asked why, if parish clergy
are already devising services for transgender people, a common liturgy is
needed. In reply, Chris notes that transgender people are a vulnerable group in
society, often subject to bullying and abuse, and at high risk of suicide. He
believes that an official Church of England service would be an important
signal of the Church’s welcome, an affirmation of God’s love for transgender
people that would counter the many negative messages transgender people often
As the Revd Rachel Mann has commented,
it will also be important for trans people to be consulted and involved in the
preparation of any liturgies, given that we are the best people to articulate
our own needs, and some of us will be skilled in theology, spirituality and
worship (Rachel, for instance, is a poet as well as being a priest).
In the Sibyls, Christian spiritualityfor transgender people, which I’ve belonged to for nearly two
decades, we have noticed a huge change. In the early days of Sibyls, the mid to
late 1990s, trans people were rejected by their churches, and Sibyls events the
only place where members could receive Holy Communion as themselves. Today,
society is so much better informed about trans matters, and clergy and
congregations less judgemental and more receptive to trans people. Sadly,
rejection can still happen, of course, but a transformation has taken place,
and the grassroots desire for Church of England liturgies to mark trans
people’s lives is part of that.
At this side of the pond we will watch
with interest as similar proposals come before the General Convention, praying
for you, as I know you pray for us. Pray please that the Blackburn motion, now
passed, will not be delayed too long in coming before the General Synod, and
for its successful progress once it reaches there.