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All Saints, Hoboken celebrates Christina in a Liturgy of Renaming

Christina (front) with her family and rector following the renaming liturgy.
The Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas, Rector, All Saints Episcopal Parish, Hoboken
Christina (front) with her family and rector following the renaming liturgy.

Last spring, I received an email from a member of my vestry. It was a coming out announcement. Chris (now Christina) wanted me to know that she is a transgender lesbian woman. In all honesty, I had thought nothing of the longer hair in our monthly vestry meetings on Zoom. Everyone’s hair was longer or grayer since we had not been able to visit our hairdressers in months!

Knowing that this is not always the case, I was particularly delighted to know that Christina was fully supported in this transition by her wife and daughter as well as her family of origin.

All Saints is an almost-universally progressive parish and could be expected to take this news in stride, but I offered to advocate or run interference should it be necessary. I also suggested that she send an email to the vestry with this news and offered her a chance to answer any questions at our next Zoom meeting. Her announcement was greeted with nothing but support and congratulations.

Once it was warm enough for us to resume outdoor worship, I proposed that Christina take over my weekly e-news column to come out to the rest of the congregation so that she would not have to tell her story over and over again or endure curious looks or uncertain comments.

After that, I was thrilled when she asked if it might be possible to celebrate her new name and identity at All Saints using the Service of Renaming from the 2018 Book of Occasional Services (PDF; page 120). We did this on Sunday, September 5, in the presence of her family, friends, and All Saints community, all of us celebrating with her.

In the newsletter piece back in July, Christina wrote:

Back to gratitude. The less personal reason I'm grateful is that stories like mine -- girl lives as a boy, wanders away from the church, finds community in a church flying the rainbow flag, starts living as herself -- can be told among us as a matter of course. We like to talk of All Saints as a welcoming place. We’re not perfect by any stretch but it’s true and it matters. I'm keenly aware that it isn't an accident and we can't take it for granted.

No, it isn’t an accident, and we do not take for granted that we truly welcome people into our community of faith in the fullness of who they are. Symbols matter. A rainbow flag blowing in the breeze during Pride Month says something to those who pass by, as does a Black Lives Matter banner, as most assuredly does a cross on the steeple.

I am privileged to serve All Saints Parish where the words “radical welcome” really mean that our doors are open for you no matter who you are. I am also extremely grateful to be part of this Episcopal Church. For all its faults, the development of liturgies for same-sex marriages and renaming ceremonies and expansive language eucharists provide a further radical welcoming for those trying to find their place in the household of God.

One of the hymns our cantor sang the Sunday of Christina's Service of Renaming was John Bell’s The Summons, which includes the words

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

The world is being reshaped around by the courage of our transgender siblings. At All Saints, we give thanks for Christina, blessed to be a blessing to all of us.