The Church of England published this week “Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.” In publishing this liturgy, the Church of England seeks to welcome and affirm trans people as full and equal members of the Body of Christ and recognizes the importance, for some, of the opportunity to formally renew their baptismal vows under a name and pronouns that align with their identities.
The service, which will appear in Common Worship, the Church of England’s collection of modern liturgical supplemental texts, is designed for those who have already been baptized and creates space for flexibility and pastoral sensibility in adapting the existing rite for re-affirmation of baptismal vows found in Common Worship. The pastoral guidance includes suggestions for scripture readings that include stories of re-naming and an option for the person to share personal testimony. Although the service also includes an option for the person to be sprinkled with water or to sign themselves with water from the font, the pastoral guidance makes it clear that this is not to be understood as a re-baptism.
The Church of England has been emphatic that this new pastoral guidance seeks to create an opportunity for trans people to reaffirm their baptismal vows publicly with their preferred name, pronouns, and gender identity rather than being a renaming ceremony in and of itself:
“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. In monastic communities it is not unusual for a person, either on receiving the habit or at profession, to take a new name.”
This pastoral guidance comes a year and a half after the Church of England’s General Synod took up the subject. In their July 2017 meeting, General Synod passed in all three houses a resolution from the Diocese of Blackburn stating:
“that this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.”
In January 2018, this was further addressed by William Nye, the secretary of the Church of England’s House of Bishops, who wrote:
“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).”
In the past several years, the Episcopal Church has also been grappling with how to pastorally respond to those undergoing gender transitions. This past summer’s General Convention saw the ratification of a new edition of the Book of Occasional Services that includes “A Service for Renaming.” Unlike the Church of England’s rite, the Episcopal Church’s liturgy doesn’t function as a renewal of baptismal vows and is, instead, primarily for the acknowledgment of a new name. In the introduction to the rite in the Book of Occasional Services, it notes:
“When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following may be used to mark this transition in the parish community. It is expected that the presider or someone appointed by the presider has prepared the candidate for this rite through pastoral conversation and theological reflection. This new beginning is distinct from the new life begun in Holy Baptism, which conveys regeneration and the responsibilities of Christian discipleship.”
Both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church’s liturgies are now available for use.