|Standing at the baptismal font on my naming day
Photo courtesy of Lee Ann Krause
A note: My goal is never, ever, EVER to try to get you to go to church, or convince you to believe in God. That is just not my job. Your faith is not my business. I do want everyone to know they are loved, no matter what, and I want to make churches safe and welcoming for those who might want to go to one. Thanks for reading.
For me, coming out as trans is liberating and terrifying. In the beginning, I cried myself to sleep, afraid of a life of isolation and rejection. I didn’t know anything about what transgender meant, and I didn’t have connections within the trans community. I just knew that I had discovered a truth about myself that could not be hidden away.
It took some time for me to know I was accepted in the church, but I began to feel comfortable once again. Then, a few months ago, a friend sent me Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog with a naming liturgy for a transgender member. Though it sounded intimidating and I wasn’t sure exactly why it was important to me, I wanted to do this in my own church for my new name. Sure, I was hoping for public acknowledgement in the church of my transition, and introduction of my new name to those who didn’t know. But both of these could have been done in other ways. Doing something as part of Sunday morning worship seemed important.
My pastors trusted in our congregation and God’s grace, and we developed a naming liturgy, modifying the one we found on Nadia’s blog. We scheduled it for July 13, 2014. I didn’t expect a negative response, and yet I was terrified. I wanted to back out and avoid the public event. I went forward with it anyway, but I invited friends of mine to come with me for moral support.
After the sermon hymn, our pastors invited me up, as well as my “naming support crew.” Twelve guys in my friend group, as well as friends in the congregation, and my mother, surrounded me as I stood next to the two pastors by the baptismal font. We hadn’t even started yet and I was tearing up. It was incredible to have the support and presence of my friends. I was not alone.
We went through the liturgy and many of us, including the pastors, choked up during the last prayer:
Leo, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Bear your new name in the Name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice. Christ is among us making peace right here right now. And let the people say, “Amen.”
Tonight, one month later, I was driving home singing to the Spice Girls, and I could finally put to words why I wanted to have a naming service at the font, and why I based it on the service for affirmation of baptism. (spoiler – the Spice Girls’ song is not a clue).
1) To me, baptism reminds me that every day I will mess up, and every day I can start over. I can’t be perfect, no matter how hard I might try, and nothing I do will make God stop loving me. I have the freedom to be human, to f#@% it up royally, and I am always given another chance. God’s passionate embrace is unconditional. We will always, always, always be loved and worthy.
2) My baptism also means that God claims me as a part of the family. God claims us, and needs us to go out into the world to work for justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and to bring hope and light into the world.
This big ceramic bowl of water in the middle of the church is a physical and tangible reminder. It anchors my understanding of who I am, who God is, and how I want to live in the world. It was the perfect place to pause and reflect as I took the next step in my journey, and took on a new name.
I needed to be sure that God knows my new name. I needed to know that God still claims me:
“Leo, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever…”
I needed to know that God still sends me forth to make a difference in the world.
“…Bear your new name in the Name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice….”
I needed to know that God is still with us, even if I’ve turned my world upside down.
“…Christ is among us making peace right here right now…”
I needed to know I would still find support at my church and with my friends.
“…And let the people say, “Amen.”…”
I no longer cry myself to sleep because I am trans. I do not feel condemned to live a life of isolation and rejection. There is room in this world for me to live authentically, and to find strength and joy in friendship and my faith. In fact, getting to be myself, which happens to be trans, is pretty dang awesome.
God still claims me, God still loves me, and God still wants my help in the world. I do still need this reminder every day, and this is why I wanted a naming service at a big bowl of water in the middle of my church.
Maybe for you, baptism isn’t a meaningful symbol for you. That’s ok. Maybe something else jogs your memory and reminds you that you are loved and worthy, that there is light and hope in the world. Maybe it is a rainbow, or sunshine, or purple flowers (as it was for me in Berkeley during my crisis of faith), maybe it is in the hug of a friend. Maybe right now you have a hard time remembering that you are loved at all.
No matter what, please know that God loves you and claims you. God’s family includes you. Whether or not you have been baptized, you are a child of God, named, and held close in love. You are not alone. You are needed in the world. No matter who you are, or what people have said about God to bully you, or what you feel may have put you outside of God’s grace, you are beloved.
YOU are beloved and needed.
Please don’t ever forget it.