MANCHESTER, NH – After an appearance at this year’s Manchester Pridefest, members of Grace Episcopal Church, led by the Reverend Dr. Marjorie Ann Gerbracht, gathered in their church on Lowell Street Saturday morning for a unique kind of event. It was the first event of its kind ever performed at this particular church; in 2018, the Episcopal Church website posted a document, “The Book of Occasional Services,” listing non-regular services available to its member churches. One of those was the Service of Renaming.
The website states:
When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following may be used to mark this transition in the parish community. It is expected that the presider or someone appointed by the presider has prepared the candidate for this rite through pastoral conversation and theological reflection.
Further, the website goes on to suggest that new or preferred pronouns be used for the person in question as the event progresses. Though the website does not recommend or discourage it, the Grace Episcopal Church adopted this ceremony as a way to show support for transgender people. Any transgender person who wished to participate in the service was welcome to do so.
Support for LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender people, has become of particular importance to the members of this church. Reverend Gerbracht felt called to hold the service to show what support she could, instead of doing active harm as many other religious organizations have. Members of her congregation feel the same; they came out to show their support as well.
“There is a transgender woman I follow on Instagram,” said Moe Egan Thomas, a member of the church. “She is absolutely wonderful. She said, ‘If you call yourself an ally, but you walk away when things get hard, you’re not an ally. I’ve got a target on my back 24/7. If you call yourself an ally, and you’re not getting hit by the same stones I’m getting hit by, you’re not standing close enough.’”
In her homily, Reverend Gerbracht repeatedly stressed the importance and power a person’s name can bring. She cited several examples of this from the Bible, including an incident in which Jacob wrestled with a “stranger” all through the night who turned out to be God, and was thereafter renamed Israel.
“Dear ones,” Reverend Gerbracht said. “You are loved. You are treasured. You are holy. You are held and treasured just as you are by your Creator. Claim the joy, the identity, the reality that makes you you. Claim the name that makes your heart sing. Amen.”
It was at this point that, though I had intended to remain a passive observer, as there were no other transgender people in attendance, I volunteered to take part in the service. Several people touched my back as I was given affirmation of the name I had chosen for myself.
Afterward, everyone ate cookies and brownies and hugged one another.