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Bishop apologises over transgender liturgy confusion

Mon 14 Jan 2019
By Cara Bentley

The Bishop of Blackburn has said sorry for putting his name to two contradictory statements on the introduction of liturgy affirming a gender transition.

The Church of England issued advice in December for parishes who wish to mark someone's gender change, advising that their new name should be used in a service where someone might affirm their baptismal faith, saying it would be a natural setting to recognise the person's gender through liturgy and a baptism certificate.

The guidance was approved by the House of Bishops, following a motion passed in General Synod 2017 that read: "This Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition."

In a press release on this advice, the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, Chair of the House of Bishops Delegation Committee, which oversaw work to produce 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."

However, a recent response to this guidance from the Church of England Evangelical Council, also signed by the bishop, stated that the advice was ambiguous and could cause problems for clergy who refuse to do such a service.

The response, also signed by Rev Hugh Palmer of All Souls Langham Place, read: "The Church of England would be declaring liturgically on behalf of God its acceptance of the claim that someone who is biologically male is in fact female or that someone who is biologically female is in fact male."

They add that there is no mention of support for clergy who "conscientiously refuse to conduct such a service" and take issue with the 'unconditional affirmation' encouraged, saying "Affirmation of baptismal faith, like both the gospel and dying and rising with Christ in baptism, is never simply about 'unconditional affirmation' of anyone."

To clear up the matter, a statement has been released on the CEEC website, stating: "He clarified that the word 'we' in the press release refers to the Delegation Committee and that the CEEC response reflects his own position."

Bishop Julian said: "'I continue to be sorry for the confusion that my different roles and statements have created and am very grateful for the trust my re-election as President of CEEC expresses."

He added that the title of the press release ('Guidance for gender transition services published'), suggests the creation of a service solely to mark a gender transition, something he has never supported in General Synod votes.

The statement on his behalf says: "in his view the only transition marked in an Affirmation of Baptismal Faith is commitment to Christ, which all people, including those who identify as transgender, are invited to make". 

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