The Church of England (CofE), the largest Christian denomination in the UK, has issued new guidance to its clergy on trans issues.
The guidance, approved by the House of Bishops, follows a motion adopted at General Synod in 2017. This recognised the need for churches to welcome and affirm transgender people.
‘The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ, and rejoices in the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit,’ begins the guidance.
The guidance advises clergy to be respectful of gender pronouns. If a trans worshipper has not been Baptized, it suggests a baptism ceremony. It describes this as the ‘natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating their identity.’
As one of its holy sacraments, the CoE says people can only undergo baptism once. However, if the trans worshipper has previously been Baptized, they can undergo a ‘Affirmation of Baptismal Faith’.
It suggests using this to celebrate the parishioner’s new identity. It encourages clergy to respond to such requests from trans parishioners in a ‘creative and sensitive way.’
‘The image of God … transcends gender’
It states: ‘The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic. Our shared identity as followers of Jesus is the unity which makes all one in Christ.’
It notes: ‘Trans people are as diverse as any other social group and ministers should avoid stereotyping.’ It says any baptism-related events for trans people, ‘should have a celebratory character.’
The guidance also goes on to note that the adoption of new names has a long history in Judeo-Christian tradition. It remains common for people to choose a confirmation name when undergoing the sacrament of Confirmation (often in their teens).
‘For a trans person to be addressed liturgically by the minister for the first time by their chosen name may be a powerful moment in the service. Some trans people may not wish their former name or gender to be mentioned.
‘It should be noted that the giving or adoption of a new name has a long history in the Judeo-Christian tradition as may be evidenced from Scripture. In some Christian circles, for example, it is customary for candidates to adopt an additional or saint’s name at their Confirmation.’
It says if a trans person underwent baptism earlier in their life, the original baptism certificate cannot be changed. However, clergy can make a record of the affirmation ceremony in the Parish register using the person’s new name. The giving of gifts, such as a Bible inscribed with their new name, is also suggested.
No specific blessing for trans parishioners
The Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, oversaw work to produce the guidance. He said, ‘We are absolutely clear that everyone is made in the image of God and that all should find a welcome in their parish Church.
‘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.’
A certain amount of compromise is believed to have been incorporated into the new guidance. Although the General Synod voted 284 to 78 to produce the guidance, traditionalists opposed the idea of producing a specific blessing to issue transgender parishioners.
The guidance is also unlikely to be embraced by some of the wider factions of the worldwide Anglican community. Many of these remain divided over the ordination of women (accepted by the Church of England), the ordination of gay people, and same-sex marriage.
The Church of England itself does not conduct same-sex weddings. However, it does allow for its clergy to be in same-sex civil unions. It also allows for clergy to conduct blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.