Faith Communities Develop More LGBT-Inclusive Liturgical Rites

Within Christian traditions, liturgy is a pattern for worship used (whether recommended or prescribed) by a Christian congregation or denomination on a regular basis.  Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglican, Reformed/Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Lutheran traditions have the “Eucharist” as a rite.  Other Protestant traditions rarely use this exact term, preferring either "Communion", "the Lord's Supper", or "the Breaking of Bread.” 

While some traditional rites have not changed in centuries, some faith traditions have recently made room for the LGBT community within liturgy.  As early as the 1990s, books containing gay and lesbian friendly liturgies were published.  For example, Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations edited by Kittredge Cherry and Zalmon Sherwood contains liturgies specifically for coming out, for commissioning lesbian/gay pride celebrations, for lesbian/gay commitment ceremonies, and even healing from acts of anti-gay violence.  While books such as Equal Rites were not always affiliated with a specific denomination, the Episcopal Church broke ground in 2009 when liturgical resources for LGBT communities were included in goals of the annual convention.  So, with the support of the Episcopal Church, a Berkeley seminary started convening priests from across the U.S. to craft the liturgical rite for gay and lesbian couples to receive religious blessings.  The new rite, which will take years to complete according to current estimates, will most likely consist of a series of original prayers, Bible readings and two essays: one on the theological meaning of blessings for gay and lesbian couples, and one that advises priests who administer the new rite.  If approved, the new blessing would be just the third addition to Episcopal liturgy since 1979.  In Canada, this addition has already occurred; Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of Westminster issued a rite of blessing for marriages of same-sex couples in May 2003. There, the synod had voted not once but three times to bless permanent, faithful LGBT relationships.  

Some faith traditions are also crafting transgender-inclusive liturgical rites.  For example, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints(HFASS) and Episcopal priest Michele Morgan use a liturgical rite for the renaming of transgender members.   In fact, Asher Herman O’Callaghan has recently reflected on his own experience of re-naming rite performed for him at HFASS.  He courageously discusses how he felt out of place having to dress up as a girl for Sunday services and struggled with being transgender, which for him means “at birth I was not declared to be the sex/gender that I am currently living as.”   Referring to himself as a “religious refugee,” he recounts the feelings of alienation he experienced in his search for an accepting religious space.  Luckily for him, he stumbled upon HFASS, a welcoming Lutheran church in Denver, Colorado.  About one year ago, O’Callaghan and Pastor Bolz-Weber adapted a re-naming liturgical rite to fit him and chose at which service to perform it.  He recalls that his favorite line of the rite was, “Bear this name in the name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice.”  After the rite, the congregation greeted him as Asher and continues to fully recognize him as male.  His story is not hidden, but celebrated.  Asher tells his story in a video about the HFASS congregation (note: his comments can be found about 6 minutes into the video) made by the Rocky Mountain Synod.  Now a parishioner at HFASS, O’Callaghan writes “I assure you that the greatest transformation I’ve experienced has been being re-membered into the Body of Christ.”  He is currently pursuing candidacy towards ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. 

Other Christian faith traditions, such as those in The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, also have a transgender rite of passage available. 

LGBT-inclusive liturgical changes are not appearing exclusively in Christian denominations, though.   Since last year, Pagan sects have begun conversations about transgender issues as well.  Jo Ellen Green Kaiser has argued that LGBT-inclusive liturgy is consistent with Jewish tradition, and blames the reluctance to change non-inclusive liturgies on an unwillingness to resolve theological problems in general.  Despite the seemingly slow pace of change, room for LGBT communities within liturgical spaces is only growing.

GLAAD encourages interested parties to refer to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s directory of welcoming places of worship.