A large number of Sion members attended this event at the end of January, eager to learn more about an area of theology and pastoral care in which they were increasingly called to offer support, whether to transgender parishioners, their partners or families.
The event was held in the legendary L’Etoile restaurant in Soho, where we enjoyed a three-course meal surrounded by images of the restaurant’s celebrity clientele from the 1880s to the present day, with the guest speakers’ addresses coming between courses, and questions and discussion towards the end of the meal.
The Revd Dr Christina Beardsley, well-known for her research and writing on this subject, who recently edited the book This is my body: Hearing the theology of transgender Christians, gave us a very helpful overview, setting the experiences of transgender people in a historical context within society, the Church and medical practice. She drew on her own research and that of others, to discuss the spirituality of trans Christians, relating that many have “an apophatic view of God, ‘a God ...too large to be constricted into a single image’,” and she shared with us her own guidelines for effective and sensitive pastoral care, derived from both personal and pastoral experience. (These were distributed and are available to all Sion College members on request from the College Administrator.)
The Revd Robin Pfaff then shared a personal account of his own experiences as a trans Christian, encouraging those giving pastoral care to allow people reflecting on their gender identity the time, space and words to do this without any sense of being judged. The prolonged and heartfelt applause at the end of the talks reflected widespread appreciation of the speakers’ openness and generosity in sharing their stories with us and of the perceptive insights which helped us to reflect, possibly in new ways and with new understanding, into this area of pastoral care.
Questions addressed Christological thoughts, “In Christ there is no male or female”; the pastoral care of partners and families of those transitioning; and the use of correct language. There was a deep sense in the room that people had found the evening both moving and very helpful, and were grateful to Sion College and to the speakers for providing this opportunity for learning and reflection to guide our pastoral practice.