Church of England issues transgender advice for clergy

The Church of England has published advice on how to welcome transgender people into the Anglican faith.

The pastoral guidance stops short of offering a new service or a specific blessing but it does advise Anglican clergy to address transgender people by their chosen name. It notes: “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.”

The document was approved by the House of Bishops on Monday night and will now be adopted into the church’s common worship. It encouraged clergy to be “creative and sensitive” in enabling people to mark a gender transition in “celebratory” way.

It says: “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 baptised by one Spirit.”

Traditionalists in the church are understood to have blocked plans for a change in the liturgy and the adoption of a new blessing for transgender people. The guidance stresses that the church teaches that the sacrament of baptism can be undertaken only once.

As a compromise, it explains how existing liturgy can be adapted to affirm those who have changed their gender. The existing right for the affirmation of baptism should be used to mark a change in gender.

A Church of England spokesman said the guidance is aimed at encouraging clergy to work with transgender people to devise services to mark the unique story of each person. He said in this context a catch-all transgender service was thought to be inappropriate.

The guidance comes after the General Synod agreed last year to consider how it might formally welcome transgender people into the Church of England.

It voted by 284 to 78 in favour of bishops considering whether special liturgies “might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition”. However, that idea was blocked by traditionalists in the church who believe gender is assigned by God and cannot be changed. The guidance does advise how churches can help transgender people mark their transition.

The bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, chair of the House of Bishops delegationcommittee, which oversaw the guidance 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.

The compromise over the wording of the document comes after years of turmoil in the church over its stance on female priests and gay marriage that have still not been fully resolved.