Baptismal ritual may mark gender-change

11 December 2018

House of Bishops guidance on marking a person’s gender transition published this week

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CHURCHES can adapt the liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith “in a creative and sensitive way” to mark a person’s gender transition, the House of Bishops has said in guidance published this week.

The House decided earlier this year that special liturgical provision on gender transition was not needed, after the General Synod requested that it consider the matter (News, 26 January).

The resulting guidance, published on Tuesday, states that, where churches wish to recognise a person’s gender transition, baptism would be the “natural liturgical context for recognising and celebrating their identity in Christ and God’s love” for the person.

Where the person has already been baptised, the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith may be used, it says. “The emphasis is placed not on the past or future of the candidate alone, but on their faith in Jesus Christ.

“The Affirmation therefore gives priority to the original and authentic baptism of the individual as the sacramental beginning of the Christian life, allowing someone who has undergone a serious and lasting change to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ. The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic.”

The service includes the presentation of the candidate, anointing of holy oil and water, said commitments and responses, and a certificate or record of the baptism, or renewal of baptism, in the parish register.

The guidance continues: “As with all pastoral encounters with people negotiating major life events, ministers will wish to respond sensitively and creatively to the person’s circumstances. Trans people are as diverse as any other social group and ministers should avoid stereotyping.”

The service should have a “celebratory character” and priests should meet with the candidate beforehand “to discuss their personal journey”, it says. The guidance also lists appropriate readings, including Genesis 17 in which God changes the name of Sarai to Sarah, and the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke.

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The guidance was produced in consultation with the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, a consultant member of the C of E’s Episcopal Teaching Document and Pastoral Advisory Group; the Revd Sarah Jones, who was the first person to have made a gender transition before being recommended for ordination in the C of E; and Canon Rachel Mann, a transgender priest, poet, and writer.

Canon Mann said on Tuesday: “I helped ensure that trans people were properly addressed in the guidance, that the recommended ritual possibilities would be rich and flexible, and that the biblical resources would be broad and vibrant.

“I know many people will feel that an entirely new liturgy of welcome and affirmation should have been developed. Given that that was not on the table, this guidance is genuinely exciting and fresh.

“It is flexible and sensitive enough that, for the first time, trans people’s stories can be acknowledged and celebrated with boldness in the C of E.”

She continued: “It says that we, too — as trans people — are bearers of the image of God. . . as much as non-trans people. This is surely something to celebrate and welcome, and represents a watershed.”

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, who chairs the House of Bishops Delegation Committee which oversaw work to produce the guidance, said: “This new guidance provides an opportunity, rooted in scripture, to enable trans people who have ‘come to Christ as the way, the truth and the life’, to mark their transition in the presence of their Church family which is the body of Christ. We commend it for wider use.”

The chief executive of Christian Concern, Andrea Minichiello Williams, said, however, that the guidance represented a “devastating trajectory towards an outright denial of God” by “undermining what it means to be baptised. . .

“The point of baptism is to identify a person with Jesus as they begin a life of following him. Using an affirmation of baptism to celebrate a gender transition turns this upside down by encouraging people to follow their own feelings and live in identities contrary to how God created them.”

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