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Special liturgy for transgender people not needed, Bishops say

22 January 2018


Susan Musgrove (right) with her daughter Sophie Summers, in St Andrew’s, Corbridge, Northumberland, in 2013, at a service to celebrate her gender transition

Susan Musgrove (right) with her daughter Sophie Summers, in St Andrew’s, Corbridge, Northumberland, in 2013, at a service to celebrate her gende...

THE House of Bishops has decided that special liturgical provision to mark a person’s gender transition is not needed.

Thirty Bishops voted in favour, at the last General Synod, of a motion calling on the House to “consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition” (News, 14 July).

An “update” circulated to General Synod members by the General Secretary, William Nye, this week, says that the the House “notes that the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith, found in Common Worship, is an ideal liturgical rite which trans people can use to mark this moment of personal renewal”.

He explains: “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, and the sacramental change it has effected, 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, and our shared identity as followers of Jesus is the unity which makes all one in Christ (Galatians 3.27-28).”

Guidance on the use of these resources will be issued by the House of Bishops later this year.

A statement issued by Church House on Monday said that the House of Bishops had “prayerfully considered whether a new nationally commended service might be prepared to mark a gender transition”. It emerged on Wednesday, however, that the Synod’s request had been considered by the Delegation Committee, made up of nine bishops. A spokesperson said that the committee “considers issues relevant to mission, ministry, and general public policy, so is an ideal forum to give this question detailed consideration”. The committee’s report was listed as “business for deemed approval” for the December meeting of the House and was accepted without debate.

“The Church of England welcomes transgender people and wholeheartedly wishes for them to be included in the life of the Church,” the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said on Sunday. “Clergy always have the discretion to compose and say prayers with people as they see fit.”

My Nye’s note reiterates arguments made during the July debate, in which the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, who is vice-chair of the Liturgical Commission, suggested that Affirmation “reminds us all of the baptism into Christ which we share and which reaches deeper than any part of our identity”. He warned: “To go beyond this and produce a generic liturgy specifically for the welcome of transgender people could be cumbersome and complicated and arguably insensitive.”

“Whenever we are tempted to doubt God’s love and acceptance we do not need a new liturgy, but to look back to our baptism in Christ”, the Revd Martyn Taylor (Lincoln) said. “We already have all the liturgy we need in baptism and confirmation: signs of God’s ungendered grace and welcome to us all.”

But the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, spoke in favour of the motion, and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, made an unexpected final speech of support, in which he argued that the theology required to produce such materials could be started “very quickly”.

On Sunday, Canon Peter Leonard, who chairs OneBodyOneFaith and represents Portsmouth on General Synod, acknowledged that clergy had devised “beautiful and moving services for trans people”, but said that such a situation could not be allowed to remain the Church’s official position.

Tracey Byrne, CEO of campaigning group OneBodyOneFaith, who joined the Synod in July, accused the Bishops of “kicking trans people into the long grass”.

“It’s no particular surprise that the bishops have fallen so short of the mark, given their failure to consult with or listen to trans people’s experiences, but that’s no excuse,” she said on Sunday. “Officially authorised services would have sent a strong message from the very top of the institution that trans people really matter; that was the message at July Synod. Sadly once again the bishops have failed to step up to the challenge set them by General Synod, the Church’s own governing body.”

The Priest-in-Charge of St Nicholas Burnage, the Revd Dr Rachel Mann, said on Monday that the Bishops’ had made a “clumsy own goal”.

“Given the fact that trans people currently face incredible levels of hate, this was an opportunity for the Church of England to take a lead and send a powerful signal that trans people have distinctive stories worthy of celebration and affirmation,” she said. “It would seem that, under the current dispensation, trans people are simply to be ‘fitted into’ existing liturgical patterns. Perhaps if trans people had been consulted directly — I know I wasn’t — we might have helped the bishops to take more seriously the mind of Synod.”

The vote in the July was: Bishops, 30-2, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy, 127-28, with 16 recorded abstentions; and Laity, 127-48 with eight recorded abstentions. The report of the House of Bishops’ meeting in December listed safeguarding, BAME inclusion, church-planting, lessons learned from the appointment of the See of Sheffield, a review of the Crown Nominations Commission’s practices, and the Anglican-Methodist Covenant as agenda items.


‘Ritual transitions and liturgical loopholes’ - The decision not to provide a liturgy for trans people undermines the Church’s claim to welcome them, says Christina Beardsley

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