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January 20, 2012
Re-Membered Into The Body of Christ
About a year ago, my faith community formally blessed me and the gender transition I was in the midst of undergoing by including a re-naming rite as a part of our regular Sunday liturgy. In addition to being a parishioner at House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO, I also happen to be transgendered. For me this means that at birth I was not declared to be the sex/ gender that I am currently living as. So I grew up as a female named Mary Christine Callahan and then did a legal name change, began hormone therapy with testosterone, went through puberty a second (and infinitely more enjoyable) time, and now live as a guy named Asher Herman O’Callaghan.
Like many of my fellow parishioners, I am a religious refugee. Some of us were or are walking wounded from attempting to fit ourselves or allowing others to fit us into fundamentalist or evangelical churches. Since making our exodus, we somehow made the happy mistake of stumbling upon a church we’ve found ourselves miraculously able to stomach. The church I grew up in had a strange fondness for the condemnation of others. As a kid, I internalized this message condemning “others” to mean that I was condemned. After all, it’s difficult to not feel pretty darn “other” as a kid who wants to be a boy but who must clad himself three times a week in the necessary church camouflage of a frilly dress, various hair accoutrements, panty hose, and dainty shoes. In college, when I had left the church of my upbringing, I remember reveling in merriment at my freedom to wear jeans and a sweatshirt to worship services without getting socially reprimanded. But the relative freedom really lost its allure when I came to realize I liked girls, came out as bisexual, and henceforth began experiencing alienation as I was increasingly treated with a cold tolerance rather than acceptance, much less radical incorporation. I often felt that the ministry offered to queer folk at churches could be summarized as the following: 1) the ad-Ministering of “reparation” through which the more palatable aspects of our appearances could be salvaged and thus our queerness disfigured into something externally unrecognizable, or 2) the ad-Ministering of amputation from the Body of Christ that is the church through dis- memberment, thus preventing the pathology assumed to be present in us from further infecting the integrity of the rest of the Body.
I found that I was unable to live with either of these options. Thus, I got angry and left church for a couple years. So for me becoming a part of a church again was rather confusing at first. I was apprehensive the first time I spoke with our Pastor, Nadia, about thinking I was transgendered. I expressed a desire to transition into being a guy in order to more thoroughly exude the dude-ness I was longing to let out of it’s cage where it had been confined for so many years. One of the things she said in the conversation that followed with me was, “Honey, what can we do for you?”
She tracked down a re-naming rite that another Pastor had used, we sat down and made some alterations to it, and picked the date it would be used. My favorite line from the rite will continue to resonate with me for years to come: “Bear this name in the name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice.” I also set aside a table with a flower on it where I lit a candle, displayed my former name lovingly written, and some pictures of myself growing up. This was a way for me to pay tribute to and memorialize my childhood and my former name. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything as personally poignant as being affirmed that night by my congregation and greeted as Asher.
The re-naming rite has been just one of many instances I’ve partaken in as a parishioner of HFASS that has demonstrated the power of a liturgical imagination at work within a community of faith. And the invitation offered by my congregation to help create, participate in, and experience liturgy in imaginative ways has empowered, transformed, and invigorated me. I’m currently pursuing candidacy towards ordained ministry in the ELCA. The generous grant from FTE has enabled me to cover application costs for my candidacy and continues to extend our congregation’s ability to ignite transformation.
Though my gender transformation might sound rather exotic, I assure you that the greatest transformation I’ve experienced has been being re-membered into the Body of Christ. I’ve gotten knit together with my brothers and sisters into this fearfully strange and wonderful reconciliation that trespasses boundaries to sustain us individually and the Church collectively. Week after week, we receive Christ’s flesh and blood that incorporates us to his embodiment even as Christ’s Body is incorporated into our bodies. It’s weird. It’s disconcerting. It’s uncomfortable. It’s more than a little frightening. But it’s also our salvation and the sanctification of the Church. Which turns out to be very good news indeed.
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