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Shooting Ourselves in the Foot – Again!

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by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Human Sexuality Group on General Synod

There is a story about two monks – one Dominican and the other Jesuit. In the days when people smoked on every possible occasion (see The Crown for examples!), the Dominican went to see his confessor.  ‘Father,’ he said, ‘Is it alright if I smoke while I pray?’  ‘Certainly not,’ said the confessor. ‘That would be most inappropriate.’  Then the Jesuit went to see his confessor. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘is it alright if I pray while I smoke?’ ‘Of course,’ said the confessor. ‘That would sanctify the act.’

Presentation is everything. And the House of Bishops has just, once again, missed an opportunity to present itself – and the Church of England – in a positive light. It has, once again, displayed a cloth ear on questions of sexuality and gender. And it has, once again, ignored the will and the request of General Synod.

Readers of this blog will be aware of the motion which was strongly supported by General Synod last July, requesting the House to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.’ They will also be aware that, this week, it has become clear that  ‘the House would like to encourage ministers to respond to any such requests in a creative and sensitive way. If not already received, baptism and confirmation are the normative ways of marking a new or growing faith in Jesus Christ. If the enquirer is already baptized and confirmed, 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.’

This is inadequate on so many levels. The Affirmation of Baptismal Faith does not allow for the adoption of a new name or a newly gendered identity¹. To squeeze the liturgy to make it fit such a purpose would be hard – it would sound like a patched together piece of work, rather than a seamless and exciting whole, created specially for the occasion.

How hard would it have been to have listened to the request of Synod and asked the Liturgical Commission to come up with something? Not very – and I am sure that there are many on the Liturgical Commission who would be delighted to accept the challenge, and to consult widely with trans people about what they would like to see.  Further, I have been told on good authority that the issue was not ‘considered prayerfully by the House of Bishops’ but was dealt with by a subcommittee which made a brief recommendation – to the dismay of many members of the House.

It’s another shot into the C of E’s foot. It’s a particularly wasted opportunity in the light of the delight – and surprise – which greeted the passing of the motion last July.

The damage is done, and no amount of spin from Church House can undo it. But it’s not too late to change course.  I hope the House of Bishops will reconsider this position, and request the Liturgical Commission to work with trans people and Synod members to produce a liturgy, as requested. Lex orandi, lex credendi; how we pray is how we believe. Do we really believe that trans people are welcome in church in their new identities? If so, it’s not an impossible task to craft a liturgy which says so.

¹  This paragraph was updated on January 26th 2018

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