Christmas Eve is just around the corner. For many, gathering together in our anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child, praying and worshiping as a body of believers, offers us space for a deep, collective sigh of spiritual relief. The child of God who shared our common lot is reborn among us, re-membered into our consciousness, longing hearts, and desire for living lives more near to Jesus, the Christ. We gather in churches small and large, near and far–we sing long-favored songs, pray, light candles, and rejoice together the origin of our faith. It is a time of renewal. For us, for the church, the earth and even the whole of creation.
Even for those in our midst who may struggle at this time of year, Christmas services can still offer community, sustaining spirit, and loving accompaniment. But for many transgender (and LGBQ) persons, this time of year is particularly difficult. Many of us suffer various forms of dislocation, isolation, grief, and loneliness. Many of us also have limited resources for caring for ourselves during times of increased aloneness. Many of us have limited means for bodily health and safety, year round, and especially so in the winter months.
During a season when the church professes a place of refuge from loneliness and despair and offers us hope of spiritual respite, many transgender persons will not feel safe, welcome, and invited into the pews of our places of worship.
Far too many of us experienced some of our deepest rejection, wounding and trauma within the church. Surprisingly, however, research suggests that a significant number of us have been and are returning to the church.
The new Trans Survey Report, recently released, finds that about 42% of transgender persons who have been rejected by communities of faith have returned to churches that are welcoming and affirming of them. This is good news, indeed.
However, there is a clear though not overtly stated truth here: for transgender folks to come back to a faith community and continue coming back, we need to actually feel welcome, affirmed, and safe in the space.
This means that churches need to actually engage in practices that send messages of welcome we can recognize and feel when we come into worship.
As we move in communal anticipation of the coming Christ Child, how can we also anticipate the Christ-seeking, community-seeking, trans child of God?
Here are 5 things you can think about for your Christmas Eve service.
1) Generally, De-Gender Your Language:
- Rather than using repeated male pronouns for Jesus, God, and people, try simply saying things like: the Christ Child; Jesus, Child of God; Jesus, Mary’s baby, etc.
- Additionally, instead of saying things like, brothers and sisters, try saying things like: siblings, friends, family of God, people of God, etc.
- If you really feel a need to name folks in your midst (because some people are brothers, sisters, parents, etc.), then try some reverently quirky, poetic naming of everyone; such as:
- “Parents, moms and dads; children; brothers, sisters, and all of us in-between and beyond…”
2) De-Gender, Re-Gender, and Gender-Expand:
When speaking about God (versus, say, the historical Jesus), move beyond gender-neutral examples like those above to variously gendering our images of God: use feminine and gender-neutral terms interchangeably with traditional masculine terms. Then, go further by re-inventing ways of naming God. Examples: God our Mother; God Our Holy Parent, She/Her, They/Their, God Our Creator, Maker of black-capped chickadees, Keeper of our tender souls, etc. (You get the idea, I’m sure.)
3) Risk Radical Symbols of Intentional Awareness and Acceptance:
Look for imaginative and brave ways to re-envision the body of Christ, literally and figuratively, among you.
- Dare to wrap your symbolic baby Jesus in blue, pink, and white swaddling clothes.
- If you employ readers in some part of your service, switch up the traditional roles.
[Be brave, like Jesus, sending us the message that gender isn’t a big, rigid, scary thing for you. Show us the many ways you can vision the imago dei among you.]
4) As always, wherever appropriate, Invite:
If you know of trans/gender-diverse persons in your midst who are willing and comfortable being asked, invite them to be involved in the service. Invite them to carry the light, sing, play an instrument, help with offertory, etc.
5) Finally, recognize us as part of the body:
With awareness toward avoiding exploitation and/or tokenizing us, find ways to voice our existence and the issues facing us in significant communal aspects of the liturgy: pray for those of us who are alone in this season, ask prayers of healing for those of us suffering with isolation and insecurity, ask blessing upon we who aren’t there, etc. Consider being a voice of continued prayer for our liberation and opportunity for full human flourishing. Be brave with us.
As we move into this season of anticipation, spiritual promise, and potential for deepening community, I pray for all of us renewed awareness of those for whom the full reach of our embrace is not yet felt. I pray for greater understanding among us of the deep and abiding call to intersectional justice becoming a resounding roar in our troubled times–more, for the collective strength, courage, and discernment for us to rise to that call. And I pray for all of you a truly revitalizing remembrance of the birth of Christ, that in our remembering, the Christ is indeed reborn in our hearts, minds, and communities.
Liam invites you to share your stories, wisdom, and experience with him directly: Please email him at liam
Liam Hooper lives in the deep south with his wife, Diana, a freelance publishing professional who keeps his calendar in line, and their teenage son, who keeps them on their toes.