Originally published in Crosstalk, newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.
“There is power in a name,” began Rev. Mark Whittall’s homily at St. Albans on Sunday Sept. 27.
All eyes were glued to the front from a congregation made up of friends, family and community members, some who had never been to church, others regular parishioners. Regardless of background, there was a buzzing energy in hearing original liturgy on Re-Naming a Transgender parishioner.
Rev. Whittall described the problems of the “them vs. us” mentality in Mark 9:38-50 as he explained how “people who are queer and transgender in our society and in our church understand this dynamic only too well. They know first-hand the barriers and boundaries that we set up to define who is in and who is out.”
It was Eliot Waddingham’s re-naming service, a non-binary transgender St. Albans parishioner who goes by the pronoun ‘they’. Waddingham, a history student at the University of Ottawa, is involved in St. Alban’s music team and Altar Guild, is the leader of a Bible Study and was St. Albans student intern last year. They’re a face every parishioner knows from enthusiastic announcements at church and is one of the first people to introduce themselves to anyone new walking through St. Albans doors. Waddingham attended many churches after moving to Ottawa five years ago, but stuck with St. Albans for good reason.
“When I went back the second week people actually remembered me,” they said.
Waddingham grew up in a religious Anglican household in Kingston and said it wasn’t until university they “have to start critically thinking about things you thought were fact your whole life. One of the things I started evaluating was religion and what God actually thought about people who were queer because I had met some people who were queer at this point and they didn’t seem like bad people.”
Waddingham was taught growing up that God created all people straight and deviating from that path was wrong. But after taking gender classes at university they “couldn’t understand how God could send these people to hell for who they love or how they dress.”
This led them to the question: “what if God made me non-binary Eliot?”
They began going by the name Eliot last year and are in the process of legally changing their name. But since the church had always been a big part of Waddingham’s life, they picked out liturgy from “Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality,” and with Rev. Whittall adapted it to fit a St. Albans service.
The liturgy then went to Archdeacon Peter Crosby, who said this is the first service of its kind in the Diocese he’s seen in his 30 years of ordained ministry.
“When we’re doing something new, like a re-naming ceremony of transgender persons, it’s important as a way of expressing pastoral care… and who we are as a community to the person,” he said.
Bishop John Chapman approved the liturgy for trial use. Although it’s a new step for the Diocese, Crosby emphasized the church’s “experiential discernment” approach.
“Sometimes you have to take a few steps along a road and look around to understand where you are and get a clear sense of what you need to do,” Ven. Crosby said.
Rev. Whittall also referred to this in his homily, admitting we can’t understand everything but we can offer an accepting and loving community of support.
“The truth is, I may never be able to understand what it’s like to be a non-binary gendered trans person. I don’t even know if I said that right,” he said, followed by a chuckle from the congregation. “But, at least in our better moments, by the grace of God, we are able to be generous by offering our support to a fellow traveller who bears the name of Christ on their faith journey.”
Looking around the church, smiles and teary eyes all faced up at the altar. The people sitting in pews, craning their necks to get a good view, all had different backgrounds and reasons for being there. But when Rev. Whittall finished the homily, he turned to Eliot and echoed the thoughts painted across the congregation.
“Eliot, we will walk with you.”