New Chapel Unitarian church in Manchester to hold UK's first transgender baptism

It feels ‘entirely natural’, says church leader after congregation unanimously backs decision. By adam lusher

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The Independent Online

For some church congregations, agreeing to hold what is thought to be the UK’s first transgender baptism might be considered controversial.

At the New Chapel Unitarian meeting place in Denton, Greater Manchester, however, the whole issue proved less contentious than arrangements for the annual fair.

Jean Clements, the worship leader, has revealed that the decision to allow a 10-year-old girl to be baptised in her new gender at the chapel was passed by the congregation with a unanimous vote.

“It felt entirely natural,” said Ms Clements. “There was no controversy when they voted at our annual general meeting. They spent more time discussing the autumn fair and whether we might move it to the summer. Now that was controversial.”

Their decision has thrilled the girl who will be baptised. In a statement released last night, she said: “I am so happy that they have now said I can be baptised because although I was previously baptised, it was as a boy, with a different name. I feel as though it was not really me who was baptised, but somebody else. At the moment I feel separate from God and as a child who has a strong faith I want to be close to Him.”

Ms Clements, 41, said that her “down to earth” congregation, which has a large contingent of retired factory workers, had already welcomed the transgender child and her same-sex parents. She said: “The parents had wanted to celebrate their marriage at their Methodist chapel, but had been refused.  They came to us last year and we gave them the celebration they had dreamed of.

“After the service, the couple and their child, who was at the time a boy who was going to transition, asked me about a baptism in the new gender.

“I told them the congregation would be fine with it. By the time of the annual general meeting [on January 24] the couple had already been to normal services with their daughter and found themselves being completely accepted.”

The date has yet to be arranged for the ceremony, which will follow a similar form to an adult baptism, but it is thought it will be the UK’s first transgender baptism. 

It will continue a liberal tradition within the Unitarian movement, which includes becoming one of the first churches to accept Darwinism and the first to allow divorced people to remarry.

Ms Clements said that while other Unitarian chapels in the area had been “up in arms” about same-sex marriage, her congregation had happily accepted the innovation.

Ms Clements, a former pub landlady who used to perform on the Manchester club circuit as a singer, said: “Although I’ve since got married, I was a single parent when I turned up at New Chapel [as a worshipper] in 2009. They welcomed me with open arms. I started taking services in 2011. We are an open-minded, modern church for modern people. I was over the moon when the baptism vote went through.”

She added: “I do respect other people’s views. But transgender baptism should at least be considered by all [denominations].”

The decision on whether New Chapel should hold its fair in autumn or summer was deferred until a committee meeting in March.