Transgender Lifecycle Rituals: A Celebration at the Table

Introduction

For a ritual celebrating the inherent queerness of both scripture and the communities that gather to worship in Christian context, as well as specifically honoring the trans people of scripture and in our midst, something of a non-traditional approach was needed— something that had a deep connection to both Earth-based traditions and Christian traditions. To meet this goal, I chose a Celebration at the Table — a thanksgiving ritual both for Jesus’ work on the cross and for the fruits of the harvest.[1] In the pagan Wheel of the Year, two holidays are particularly relevant — one giving thanks for the early wheat harvest, Lammas, and another for the later grape harvest, Mabon.[2] Similarly, in the Christian tradition, this ritual is named a celebration because it functions as Thanksgiving to God for the work of Jesus. This work was originally crafted for use in Metropolitan Community Church communities, and it is important to note that the MCC uses a much broader communion theology than most mainline denominations. Rather than focusing on Jesus’ presence or lack thereof in the bread and wine of communion, MCC centers its theology on an open table where mystery opened to infinite interpretation can occur.[3] Similarly, MCC’s focus on the priesthood of all believers allows for any MCC member to celebrate at the table.[4] Although I subscribe to MCC theology, I have been educated for most of my higher education in Lutheran institutions, and the Lutheran influence will be clear in this work. It is my hope that this Thanksgiving at the Table could be adapted for more contexts based on the broadness of MCC’s eucharistic theology, and the Christopagan elements present within the celebration.

In this ritual, I’ve offset the narrative of Christian liberation through the Cross event with the ongoing story of the liberation of transgender people.  Building upon familiar rituals from the Christian tradition, this thanksgiving utilizes the symbols of bread and wine, connects them to the story of the last meal Jesus shared with the followers before being crucified, and recalls the harvests remembered at Lammas and Mabon. In the actions around the altar, the pastor, priest, or other leader lifts the symbols and reenacts the story of the final meal before the people present. In many traditions, the symbols transform into spiritual food for those who partake.  

This ritual is offered as a way for people — of many and no genders — to celebrate the specific giftedness of gender variant, agender and transgender people.  This ritual takes a standard thanksgiving at the table[5] and adapts it to celebrate the gender expansiveness of God — notably removing the word Lord throughout, also paying close attention to the other gendered images and reimagining them in expansive and descriptive ways. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the salvation history which the celebrant retells through the ritual is refocused with the narrative of transgender or gender variant people, or people who share experiences in common with transgender or gender variant people in a key role. That is, while the cross remains the central event of salvation, the liberation of transgender and gender variant people might need a different focusing lens. That is, transgender people must experience salvation in their embodied realities; focusing on the people who share similar embodied realities in the narrative of salvation history provides a specific focus in this rite. This rite exclusively uses narratives that provide specific resonance with transgender people; when using this rite, feel free to edit in references to the cross event as appropriate to your context.

Rite

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

Supplies: A worship gathering, a set up for communion/Eucharist. Appropriate helpers for communion [i.e. adequate servers and acolytes — that is people who hold and serve the elements – to proceed through the congregation in a reasonable amount of time.]

Considerations: This service was originally written for an MCC context — in which we celebrate communion weekly, because there is so much baggage associated with being openly queer in other Christian traditions. Often people have been denied communion, or it became a point of tension in previous congregations. One of the many ways MCC seeks to mitigate this damage is by celebrating communion in each congregation at least weekly and by opening the invitation to communion as widely as we know how. This ritual should only be used in a congregation which is prepared to welcome the full diversity of identities and expressions of transgender people’s lived experience. In the MCC, communion is distributed by family grouping and includes a blessing for each individual or grouping receiving communion. 

The main ritual concern is the ability of the congregation to receive the God language, the omitting of Lord, the de-gendering of many aspects of the liturgy, and the refocused salvation history. If your community cannot yet receive these changes, consider working some of them in slowly. It is assumed that the remainder of the service will be in accordance with the traditions of the local worshipping community. Please ensure that you make appropriate changes, ensuring you use expansive language for God, and that you open the possibility for people of a variety of genders to be in leadership during the worship service.  

Location: Ideally in a communion/Eucharistic service of a worshipping community. Alternately it could take place as part of a pride celebration, i.e. before a pride parade, or at a pride festival

Words:

[Leader text is non-bold, congregational responses are in bold text.]

Leader: May God be with you.

Congregation: And also with you.

Lift up your hearts

We lift them up to our God.

Let us give thanks to the Mighty One our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, almighty and transforming God, through our guide, Jesus Christ, who overcame death and showed us the path to life everlasting. So, with the church on earth and the fullness of heaven, we praise you and join the unending song:

Holy, Holy, Holy One, God of mighty power. Heaven and Earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Our God. Hosanna in the Highest.

Blessed are You, Ruler of Space and time.

Your gift for transforming is beyond measure.

You are faithful beyond our ability to imagine.

We praise you for do-overs:

For saving Ninevah and repenting of Your bad decision.

For saving the woman with a hemorrhage and giving her life anew. 

For saving Lazarus and calling him out of the tomb of death and despair.

We bless you for the stories of naming:

For Saul, who you called as an apostle, and whose name you changed to Paul. 

For Sarai, who had children at an advanced age, and whose name you changed to Sarah. 

For Simon, who called your Beloved One Messiah, and whose name you changed to Peter.

We give you thanks for the witness of trans and gender non-conforming beloveds:

For Joseph, who was gifted with a princess dress, showing us boldness in the face of oppression.

For the Ethiopian Eunuch, who defying gender assignment, requested baptism and opened wider the church.      

For Lydia, who showed leadership in an era that restricted women, and showed the way of hospitality.

There, on that night, and in that place where Jesus and the disciples shared their last meal together, the Beloved One, Jesus, took bread and gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples saying “take and eat: This is my body, given for you. Do this whenever you remember me.”

While saying the above, take the bread, hold it up, use your other hand to make a cross over it and break it using whatever method is appropriate to the form of bread being used.  

Again, the Beloved One took the cup and gave thanks and passed it around to everyone saying: This cup makes a new agreement in my blood shed for you and for all people, my loved ones. Do this whenever you remember me. 

While saying the above, pour wine/juice from the pitcher into the cup, make a cross over the cup, lift it up reverently and set it back down.

Holy one, pour out your love on these gifts, and unite all of those who receive this your food – from Jesus Christ, whom we honor with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.

Here at this church, we celebrate an open table — we do not require you to be a member of this or any church to receive these gifts, we only ask that you desire a closer connection with the divine. If you prefer not to receive communion, please feel free to come forward for a blessing, just hold your arms crossed over your chest. 

Edit the above and include other relevant information about the process of receiving communion as appropriate to your tradition. Please be as welcoming as possible, and be sure to use welcoming language.

Come to the Banquet, for all is now ready.

Theological Reflection

At first glance, this rite looks similar to more mainstream Celebrations at the Table, but upon more in-depth exploration, the differences become apparent. We give our thanks to the mighty one our God, instead of the Lord our God. Similarly, Jesus becomes the Beloved One, both to make clear the reference and to accentuate his humanity. These changes seem insignificant individually, but collectively facilitate a gender-expansive understanding of God. 

From this understanding of God, the rite seeks to destabilize some biblical stories and apply them to the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming people. The first story perhaps functions as the most scandalous — the story of Ninevah, and God’s repentance of God’s bad decision.[6] The other two stories in that triad both talk about the return to society after experiencing ritual uncleanness or illness. That is, all three of these stories are about times when God gave second chances.  The second triad of stories were selected because of their connection with name changes. Saul, Sarai and Simon were chosen to balance the stories in terms of gender and to incorporate more non-gospel narratives, even as the stories are largely pulled from the Christian Testament. Finally, the third triad of stories come from gender non-conforming beloveds, first in clothing, second in sexual identity and third in social location. This triad of triads points to creativity and expression — certainly something which transgender people utilize frequently.[7] This expanded understanding of God helps to promote an expanded knowledge of humankind. Thus, this ritual could be an introductory rite to a community seeking to welcome someone who was transitioning. Similarly, this rite could be used in collaboration with the Baptism-type rite to bookend a worship service. 

This rite then has the dual purpose of introducing cisgender people into the narrative of transgender and gender expansive people in the Bible and celebrating with transgender people the stories of our own in the Bible and how God transforms other humans and us in the process of life.

From a pagan perspective, the original or inspiring rite is already deeply pagan. For example, followers of Mithras had a rite where Mithras’s body was present in bread and wine, which his followers consumed to receive salvation.[8][ The same group was condemned by Tertullian for practicing these same rites as Christianity, even though they would have started at similar times yet been geographically offset.[9] In contexts where it is believed that God becomes present in the rite at the table, this could also be a representation of the immanence which paganism particularly focuses on.[10]  

This rite asks the question “Who do we celebrate?” and answers, proclaims, exclaims and communicates at once and without reservation “transgender and gender diverse people.” This celebration also utilizes reverence and being as qualities of celebration, that is, by engaging two different categories or kinds of ritual this one rite emerges.[11]


[1] Chamberlain, Wicca For Beginners: A Guide to Wiccan Beliefs, Rituals, Magic and Witchcraft, 40.

[2] Higgenbothan and Higgenbothan, Christopaganism: An Inclusive Path, loc. 358.

[3] Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, “Companion Guide to the MCC Statement of Faith,” 61.

[4] Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, 14.

[5] Laurence Hull Stookey, Let the Whole Church Say Amen! A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public (Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Abingdon Press, 2001).

[6] Jonah 3:10.

[7] Beck and Metrick, The Art of Ritual: Creating and Performing Ceremonies for Growth and Change, loc. 1214.

[8] Higgenbothan and Higgenbothan, Christopaganism: An Inclusive Path, loc. [9] .

[9] Higgenbothan and Higgenbothan, loc. 1066.

[10] Higgenbothan and Higgenbothan, locs. 2246–2260.

[11] Grimes, Beginnings in Ritual Studies, 51.