Shooting Ourselves in the Foot – Again!

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

Giles Goddard

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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13 Responses to Shooting Ourselves in the Foot – Again!

  1. Ian says:

    Giles, you are quite right that how we pray is what we believe. So given that the C of E does not yet believe what I suspect you do about transgender identity, why on earth should the HoB have asked for a liturgy?

    • Anne Lee says:

      Ian, not surprisingly, your post clearly demonstrates your own views, but you cannot impute your views to the rest of the members of the Church of England. The synod debate showed clearly through the voting figures that ‘the C of E’, ie the people, DO have an understanding of transgender identify. Surely it was SYNOD who asked the HoB to consider producing a liturgy. The HoB did NOT ask for a liturgy. Perhaps our prayers should be that the members of our House of Bishops have the courage to speak with a prophetic voice as well as to respond to genuine pastoral need.

      • Ian says:

        Actually, that’s not the case. When I refer to the ‘C of E’ I am talking about what is said formally in the Canons and Liturgy. This is properly what the C of E believes—not a poll of current membership, many of whom don’t even hold an orthodox view of Christology or atonement (as demonstrated by the ‘ordinary theology’ research).

  2. flaemdragon says:

    A Liturgy for a Renaming Ceremony for transgender participants.
    Free to download:
    This is one of seven trans liturgies that are included in the resource book Transfaith, by Chris Dowd and Tina Beardsley, which will be published February 2018.

    • Ian says:

      Yes, and I suspect there are others. But of course to make use of these would mean anyone ordained in the C of E breaking their Oath of Canonical Obedience.

    • Ian says:

      And it is useful to see this, to understand how clearly it departs from Anglican teaching and liturgy. Thanks.

  3. Alan Wilson says:

    The use of a liturgy for a purpose that is not provided for within BCP or CW is perfectly lawful, and if none be provided by the ordinary, is at the incumbent’s discretion provided that it does not contradict the Bible or the doctrine of the Church of England. Whether a liturgy for this purpose (requested by the general synod) is inherently against the Bible or their doctrine of the Church of England (both of which are silent on the main bone of contention here) would be a question to be determined by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. A good introduction to the actual meaning of canonical obedience is Rupert Bursell’s masterful article:

    It means both less (in many ways) and more (in some) than people who want to use it as a crude weapon to do down people they disagree with about disputed points of theology often imagine.

    • Ian says:

      Except that the HoB *have* provided a liturgy (by pointing people to Affirmation of Baptismal Vows) and have (briefly) explained why an alternative is not appropriate. So it is not the case that a liturgy has not been provided; it is that many people do not like the liturgy that has been provided.

      • Alan Wilson says:

        If the House of Bishops had actually done as they were asked to and scoped a liturgy for this purpose the current controversy would not be going on! A subcommittee of the HoB has decided that a service provided for one purpose will do for another. Which it won’t because it’s a different purpose. A subcommittee of bishops, to take a couple of examples in my in-tray, might say it couldn’t see why the service it approved for dedicating a churchyard extension wouldn’t do for memorialising those who have served in the RAF in the past century. If the RAF padre disagreed and/or added other elements to the service that would not be illegal, as long as the purpose were different and the service did not mark any departure etc. As for the doctrinal aspect nobody has suggested that the way the then Bishop of Bristol acted in relation to the Revd Carol Stone in the 1990s had any doctrinal implications at all. because it didn’t.

        The notion that any innovation in liturgy for a purpose otherwise unprovided for is a breach of canonical obedience (thus unlawful) would impact very hard on many fresh expressions. It’s nonsense.

      • Ian says:

        But they were not asked (or, as the Mail had it, ‘demanded’) to scope a liturgy. They were asked to consider whether that was appropriate. Both Chris Newlands, in proposing, and the Archbishop of York, in supporting, were very clear how modest that request was. Nothing was demanded. They did what they were asked to do: consider whether it would be appropriate to ask for some liturgy to be prepared. They deemed it would not be, and Richard Frith had already said in the debate that that would be the outcome. There were no surprises.

  4. ludamusblog says:

    Giles, you say, “The Affirmation of Baptismal Faith is designed for use in a parish church after, say, a baptism as part of a confirmation service in a cathedral. ” This is untrue, you are thinking of the service of “Celebration after an Initiation Service outside the Parish” which is also in the CW Initiation Volume. The service to which the HoB direct us is the “Affirmation of Baptismal Faith”, which, the Note tells us, “is intended for those who are already baptized and confirmed and who, after preparation and instruction, come to make a public act of commitment.” Two different services.

    • Jayne Ozanne says:

      Thank you for flagging this. Giles has amended the text accordingly. The Affirmation of Baptismal Faith is a better service but sadly still doesn’t go anywhere near meeting the pastoral needs or rising to the occasion of affirming a trans person’s new identity, so the point still stands.

  5. Leslie says:

    Mind shoots body – again!

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