Following a radical re-think, the Church of England has announced that it has modified the Affirmation of Baptism service to enable transgender Christians to be embraced by the Church and celebrate their new gender identity.
The new guidance was approved by the House of Bishops following considerable pressure which was applied to the General Synod in 2017 for an inclusive Church. The Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson, chair of the House of Bishops delegation committee, 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”. He further clarified “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.” The new guidance will now be incorporated into Common Worship.
The Affirmation of Baptism is a service somewhere between initial baptism and confirmation and is designed for individuals who wish to make a renewed declaration of their faith. This unprecedented step will allow devout Christians who have taken the transgender route to still be accepted within the Church. The new guidance encourages clergy to be “creative and sensitive” when enabling individuals to mark their transition with the Church, urging the idea that the service should be “celebratory”. The document further details how certain elements can be incorporated into the service, for example, water and oil.
The new guidance affirms the Church’s stated intention to “welcome and encourage the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ and rejoice in the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptised by one Spirit”
Within the Church of England clergy, three trans ministers were invited to consult on the guidelines. Reverend Dr. Tine Beardsley, a retired trans health care chaplain, commented: “For me, the most important thing was actually having this certificate to say that I had renewed my baptism vows and it had my chosen name on it.” The Reverend Dr. and others have already taken part in an Affirmation of Baptism informally but will now receive the official endorsement of the Church; whilst she is pleased with this momentous step she expressed disappointment that the guidance had not incorporated a specific liturgical form of words relating to transition. The Reverend Dr. further commented: “the new guidance would also remove any doubt for clergy leading services”.
Needless to say there are some amongst the clergy and parishioners who have a different point of view. Despite the fact that the General Synod voted by 284 to 78 in favour of bishops considering whether special liturgies “might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition”, It seems that Traditionalists within the Church stepped in and blocked plans for a change in the liturgy and the adoption of a new blessing for transgender Christians on the basis that the Church teaches that the sacrament of baptism can only be undertaken once. Some conservative theologians have argued that gender is assigned by God and should not be changed.
The basic principle of Christianity is forgiveness and inclusion for all, even the worst of sinners, it remains to be seen whether the Christian principles with regard to transgender people are enthusiastically embraced by local parishes.