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World >

US Church votes in favour of transgender ordination

by a staff reporter

THE Episcopal Church in the United States has voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the ordination of transgender people.

At its 77th General Convention, it approved an amendment to its non-discrimination canons to include "gender identity and expression". The amendment makes it uncanonical to bar "transgender" people from the priesthood.

The vote was carried by the House of Deputies, made up of clergy and lay people.

TransEpiscopal, a group of transgendered Episcopalians, said: "We are filled with joy at this clear affirmation that the Episcopal Church welcomes and values the ministerial gifts of transgender people, lay and ordained. We are also delighted by the strong support and broad understanding of trans issues shown by deputies representing a wide range of regions and generations in this Church."

A member of the delegation from the UK, Christina Beardsley, said that the debate was "wonderful". One of the most "profound" contributions, she said, came from the Bishop of Rochester, New York, the Rt Revd Prince Singh, who said: "Just by being people of faith we inevitably occupy liminal space and identity, and so embracing trans people would take us into deeper depths of what it means to be a pilgrim people."

The House of Bishops at the Convention also approved a new rite for same-sex blessings, by a majority of 111 to 41.

The rite, "The Witnessing and Blessing of Lifelong Covenant", now moves to the House of Deputies for final authorisation.

The liturgy contains a so-called "conscience clause", which says that neither priests nor lay people would be coerced or penalised in any way for supporting or barring the ceremony. This clause would bring comfort to those in the "increasingly isolated theological minority", the Bishop of Springfield, the Rt Revd Daniel Martins, said.

The liturgy has been authorised for provisional use, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has been asked to conduct a review process over the next three years.

Some bishops warned that the rites would put the Church "out of the Christian mainstream", but the Bishop of Washington, Dr Mariann Edgar Budde, said that an official service was needed to honour and bless the "lifelong same-sex couples" who "have served Christ and Christ's mission in ways incalculable to measure".

The official liturgy for same-sex blessings has been in development since 2009, when it was authorised by the last General Convention.

On the Anglican Covenant, the House of Deputies carried a revised resolution which said that the Church was too divided to make a decision on the Covenant now. It asked for another task-force on the Covenant to report to the General Convention in 2015.

A resolution calling for "positive investment" in Palestinian territories was also passed, in order to promote a sound economy and infrastructure; but the House of Bishops decided to postpone a conversation about "corporate engagement" with companies in the Church's investment portfolio which operate in the territories.

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