In a disturbing turn of events, New Chapel Unitarian and Free Christian Church has become the first church in the United Kingdom to offer baptisms to transgender members.
According to a report from the BBC, the decision was passed by the congregation with a unanimous vote after Jean Clements, worship leader at the church in Tameside near Manchester, proposed the accommodation following a meeting with a family whose 10-year old son hoped to be baptized in his self-identified female gender.
"I felt saddened by the fact that this family were being shunned by many mainstream churches,'' said Clements. "I would like to thank one courageous girl for inspiring me to think carefully about this issue in the first place.''
"It felt entirely natural," Clements added, explaining that the transgender baptism will be "very similar" to adult baptisms. "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."
In a statement released on Sunday, the child seeking to be baptized said, "I am so happy that they have now said I can be baptized because although I was previously baptized, it was as a boy, with a different name. I feel as though it was not really me who was baptized, 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."
Derek McAuley, the chief officer of the Unitarian General Assembly, told the BBC that it is possible that other Unitarian congregations in the U.K. will soon follow the same practice. The Independent notes that the move continues 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.
Clements described her congregation as "a multi-generational community who are very willing to accept change and progress" and said the Unitarian Movement stands for freedom, reason and tolerance.
"I do respect other people's views. But transgender baptism should at least be considered by all [denominations]," she added.
The Church of England has also disclosed plans to add a ceremony to its services for "transgender" persons who seek to be re-baptized in their new gender identity and under their new name, according to reports.
Rev. Chris Newlands, the vicar of Lancaster Priory, proposed the motion for the church's General Synod to consider in May: "That this Synod, recognizing the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition," reads the motion.
"It's an absolute trauma to go through this, with the surgery, as people get a lot of transphobic bullying," asserted Newlands. "The church needs to take a lead and be much more proactive to make sure they are given a warm welcome."
The push for church celebration of transgender identity is not without its opponents.
Andrew Symes, the executive secretary of the conservative Anglican Mainstream, told the Guardian in May that the "Christian faith has always taught that people are created male and female."
"We are aware there are a number of people who want to change from one gender to another and that's a new thing for the church to deal with," said Symes. "It would be something that would go against the teachings of the church up till now. It would be something that would cause controversy."