Affirmation of Baptism

Introduction

Once I had changed my name socially, I began looking for a way to commemorate the change more publicly; at that time, I was a student at a Christian theological school, so exploring the rites of Christianity made sense. Although there has yet to be an opportunity for me to use this rite for myself, I have used it with other individuals and in coursework successfully. I’ve reviewed and refreshed this rite for inclusion here, with the hope that one day I’ll be able to use it for myself and that others will find it useful in ritualizing their own name changes.

As written, this rite is an Affirmation of Baptism, with promises based on the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Statement of Faith, but ideally could be adapted in multiple contexts to be a baptism for someone not yet baptized, or as a rebaptism if that was part of the recipient’s faith tradition. My primary faith tradition, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), offers limited constraints on theology, instead seeking to offer conversation. In regards to Baptism, the specific statement as to our beliefs reads “Baptized and filled with Your Holy Spirit, You empower us to be Your healing presence in a hurting world.”[1]  According to the Companion Guide to the MCC Statement of Faith, the common understanding of baptism as a sacrament holds us together, while baptism may be performed on infants and adults, understood as water baptism or a baptism in the spiritual realm.[2]  In this rite, I lean into this understanding of baptism as something that can be repeated ritually, even as it does not convey any additional grace, as one baptism provides infinite grace. This rite is named an Affirmation of Baptism with Name Change because of the re-making of the baptismal promises with the repetition of the baptismal act. In contrast to the baptismal affirmation patterns of many mainline traditions, this does not elevate someone to full membership in a congregation or denomination. Also, any member of the congregation may perform the rite (as discussed below-this may differ in your denomination or faith tradition). This rite is a time for an individual to be baptized or to honor their baptism with a new identity, and to have that baptismal identity affirmed by the gathered community.

In this Affirmation of Baptism with Name Change, we remember and reenact the stories of those washed with water as part of purification or initiation rites.[3] In the Christian texts, the earliest depiction of baptism would be the message of John the Baptizer who cried on Jordan’s Banks that God’s reign was near, baptizing in the name of the one who was to come. The story of Jesus’ baptism by John reminds us what it means to uncover new aspects of what was always true — just as Jesus discovered his unique relationship with and within God at his baptism — transgender people often uncover their gender identity or reach the ability to live into their gender identity when they are older.[4]

Rite

Note: If you wish to use or adapt this rite, please Contact River for permissions details.

Supplies: A worship gathering, Baptistry/Baptismal Font or other source of water.

Considerations: This service is written for an MCC context — in which we celebrate baptism infrequently as most of our members are baptized in other faith traditions before coming to an MCC congregation. One of the many ways we do celebrate baptism is through Affirmations of Baptism — and/or rebaptism in which a person celebrates God’s affirmation of them, including their sexuality, gender identity and their faith. This would ideally be used after the Funeral for a Name, but also might occur before that ritual if this ritual was used to introduce a person’s new name to the worshipping community.

The main ritual concern would be if one wanted to use an old name or not. It could be harmful to use the old name if the congregation already knows the new name; alternately, if only a new name is used and the congregation does not know the new name, it could be confusing. Whichever option is selected, make sure the person affirming their baptism is on board and can participate fully in their celebration.

Location: Ideally within a worship service of the local worshipping community. Alternately it could take place with friends by a body of water — as in the Funeral for a Name.

Words and Actions:

[Leader and Person Affirming Baptism’s text is non-bold, congregation’s responses are in bold type.]

Leader:
Holy one,

You are filled with grace and mercy. Your love shows us the way of life everlasting. In the promises of Baptism, you mark each one as family and bring us from the realm of death to the place of endless life. Join all the baptized into your family, the body of Christ.
{Old Name}/{Beloved}, You present yourself to change your name before God, and to affirm your baptism.

Person Affirming Baptism(PAB):
I do.

Leader: Beloved Child of the Universe,
You are the breath of thousands of stars,
Forged in fiery furnaces beyond imagination,
Spread so far apart from each other,
Brought together to create the frame that you inhabit. 

Did you know that more than the breath of stars, you are the stories that form you?

We remember you. We remember the name that your parents gave you at your birth, {Old Name OPTIONAL} and we gather to honor your new name {New Name}.


To Congregation: {Pronoun’s} name shall be {New Name}
Congregation: {Pronoun’s} name shall be {New Name}
From this point forward, only {New Name} should be used in the rite.


Leader: As followers of Jesus, we look to the Love God sent to this earth. We follow the example of one called Jesus. We gather together to celebrate who you are, and where you are going. 
Beloved, would you share something about your new name?
Person Affirming Baptism shares brief 1-3 min. reflection if they wish.

Please stand and join with us as our Beloved {Name}, affirms their promises to God and this community.

If using this rite in a faith tradition that has an extant baptismal or affirmation rite, insert the traditional baptismal promises of that community

Leader: Do you promise to be part of our community, grounded in God’s radically inclusive love for all people?
PAB: I do, and ask God to guide me.
Leader:
Do you promise to be part of our ongoing conversation on matters of belief and faith?
PAB: I do, and ask God to guide me.
Leader:
Do you promise to use your power to be God’s healing presence in a hurting world? 
PAB: I do, and ask God to guide me.
Leader:
Do you promise to actively resist systems and structures which are destroying God’s creation?[5]
PAB: I do, and ask God to guide me.

Leader: Congregation,
Do you promise to walk with N {New Name} as {pronoun} participates in our conversation on matters of belief and faith?
Cong: We do, and ask God to guide us.
Do you promise to honor N with the fullness and diversity {pronoun} brings to our community?
Cong: We do, and ask God to guide us.
Do you promise to share your lives with N as you do with all of those here?
Cong: We do, and ask God to guide us.

Leader: N, we welcome you today as part of our community, no longer as a name now removed to history, but with the love and stories that have shaped you into the person you are today. 

Cong: We Welcome You.


Pour, sprinkle, or immerse with water as appropriate to your tradition and location while saying these or similar words:
Leader:
N, I baptize you in the Name of the Creator
And of the Christ
And of Love.

Let us Pray:We give you thanks, O God.

You move through water, fire, air and earth.

You created {Name}, and made {pronoun} your beloved.
In the waters of Baptism you marked {pronoun} with your cross, and gave {pronoun} the promise of endless life.  Sustain {name} with the Holy Spirit of Love you pour out on all your beloveds.
Congregation: Amen
N, Beloved of God, You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

[The service continues as per the norms of the congregation’s faith tradition.]

Theological Reflection

This rite uses one of the fundamental Christian sacraments and customizes it to be attentive to the specific needs of transgender people, while still serving well as the primary worship rite for all the gathered Christian assembly. This Baptismal celebration may be used in any worship context, though could be chosen to coincide with important days in the church year, the Wheel of the Year, or the moon cycle.  For example, this could take place during Easter, Baptism of Jesus day, All Saints Day, Pentecost, a Pride celebration, at any of the Sabbats, particularly auspicious ones might be Samhain, Yule, or Ostara, or on any new moon. The use of common symbols and attitudes present in Christian worship allow for easy translation among various communities within the broad Christian umbrella.

Water serves as the primary symbol in this rite. As one of the five elements of the world (water, fire, air, essence and earth) water points to the energies of blessing and birth.[6]  Using water here also reminds us that without fire, water cannot exist, just as without death, birth cannot exist. These seemingly opposite realities are better understood as mutualities— each feeding from the other to form the reality we know as earth and life.[7]

Evaluating this rite using Grimes’ paradigm, this rite can be best understood as both liturgical and ceremonial — something religious and simultaneously political. It functions both as a repetition of the entrance rite of the church, that is, Baptism, and as a celebration of a new political/social reality in the renaming of a person. As mentioned above, this rite involves repetition with a critical difference. It looks similar to traditional baptisms and does not occur when one is an infant — and is designed for someone who is already a member of a congregation to affirm their membership. Although the chances are the people present have already been initiated into the Christian tradition, they are reaffirming their belief in the faith traditions to which they belong. Ceremonious ritual functions to sacrifice aspects of the self to become part of the group; in Christianity, we bring our self-interest in line with that which benefits the community interest.[8] In this rite the transgender person is sacrificing some of their freedom to commit to being part of a community of faith by choosing to be part of an ongoing faith conversation and resisting the systems of power and destruction.  

Telling the story of Baptism, we are reminded of being born — one of the fundamental experiences of humanity. Some hold that birth functions as one of the differentiating rituals in life, marking some as men and others as women.[9] However, in a sermon preached at Lake Street Church of Evanston, this author discussed the essential nature of birth as something that every human person finds themselves involved in, and that transgender people find themselves collectively excluded from.

Each of us has a gut understanding of what it means to give birth. We’ve each participated in giving birth as a birther, one being birthed, or as someone present to care for those involved in the birthing process.  In humans, the assumption is that only certain people can give birth. That birth happens just in specific ways, and just for particular reasons. Transgender people are frequently excluded from these markers, collectively excluded from the class of individuals who can give birth.[10]


Yet we are giving birth to ourselves — or living into our birth into God’s family, while also celebrating our ever-changing identities through our ongoing existence. We are not born a man, or a woman, or an enby,[11] but we get to become one throughout our lives. It is my hope that this rite may be one of the many stories that can shape, bless, and affirm trans people in this blessed becoming.

[1] General Conference XXVI, “Statement of Faith” (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, July 5, 2016), http://mccchurch.org/commission-on-the-mcc-statement-of-faith/statement-of-faith/.

[2] Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, “Companion Guide to the MCC Statement of Faith,” July 5, 2016, 14, https://mccchurch.org/files/2016/08/Companion-Guide-to-the-2016-MCC-Statement-of-Faith-1.pdf.

[3] Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, 16.

[4] Beardsley and O’Brien, This Is My Body, locs. 2458–2471.

[5] General Conference XXVI, “Statement of Faith.”

[6] Beck and Metrick, The Art of Ritual: Creating and Performing Ceremonies for Growth and Change, loc. 834.

[7] Grimes, Marrying and Burying: Rites of Passage in a Man’s Life, 179–80.

[8] Grimes, Beginnings in Ritual Studies, 41.

[9] Grimes, Marrying and Burying: Rites of Passage in a Man’s Life, 207.

[10] River Cook Needham, “Can A Trans Person Give Birth?,” Blog, River Needham: Ministry for Transformation (blog), March 26, 2017, https://riverneedham.org/2017/03/26/can-a-trans-person-give-birth-romans-818-25-given-at-lake-street-church-26-march-2017-national-weekend-of-prayer-for-transgender-justice/.[

[11]Enby is a modified acronym from NB, spelled Enby to limit confusion with the other acronym NB meaning non-black (person of color). Enby stands for non-binary – an umbrella of gender identities which exist outside of, beyond and between the traditional man/woman divide.