Church of England backs special services marking new identities for transgender people

Church of England bishops are to consider preparing service materials for transgender people following a vote by its General Synod this afternoon.

A motion from the Blackburn diocese proposed by the Rev Chris Newlands called on the House of Bishops to 'consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition'.

Rev Chris Newlands presented a motion calling for the bishops to consider preparing liturgical material for transgender people.

He referred in a briefing paper to a man he calls 'George', who had transitioned from being female and felt the need to 'reintroduce himself to God, with his new name and gender identity'. Speaking to the Synod he said this case was 'the spark which turned my desire to speak out for trans people into a flame'. He also spoke of another case in which parents with a transgender child in an evangelical Church of England parish had received support from 'many if not all' church families. They hoped the Church would 'soon learn to offer them not just grudging acceptance but full acceptance and support'.

'Our welcome has to be Christlike, our arms outsretched in love,' Newlands said. 'The welcome we offer is the mark of our ministry in Jesus name.'

While he acknowledge worship material was available, he said: 'For a service of welcome and affirmation for transgender people, we can do better than adapting something already there. They deserve better than that.'

An amendment proposed by Dr Nick Land calling on the Synod to 'acknowledge different understandings around gender dysphoria and the field of gender identity more widely' and urging further theological reflection did not pass. Land said that while it was right that the Church should be welcoming transgender people who were often vulnerable, marginalised and bullied, liturgy needed to follow theology and that serious theological thinking was required. He also queried whether the Church had adequately addressed pastoral, sociological and practical issues.

While some speakers expressed similar reservations, others stressed the need to make the Church's welcome unequivocal. The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, said: 'Passing this motion today will have a very powerful effect in terms of the signals it sends out.'

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said the motion had been carefully crafted to urge the bishops to consider the creation of materials for transgender people. He urged the Synod to support it.

The Gender Identity Research and Education Service estimated in 2009 that up to half a million people in the UK have 'experienced some degree of gender variance', with between 60,000 and 90,000 desiring 'complete role adaptation'. There are thought to be around 6,000 'presenting' trans people in the UK.

Many conservatives argue that gender is fixed at birth and cannot be changed, and resist surgical and other therapies aimed at gender reassignment. However, while the bishops have acknowledged opposing views can be conscientiously held on the question, it already allows priests to marry transgender people if they wish.