Not all Episcopal Parishes, nor all Episcopal Dioceses, however, are equal – but I am so completely and totally blessed to be a member of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and of the parish of Eastern Shore Chapel (a “chapel of ease” established on the Eastern Shore of the Lynnhaven River, in Virginia Beach, VA).
For as long as I can remember, I knew that I was “different.” It took years, however, to learn exactly what my difference was, to accept that difference, to embrace that difference, and then to live as that different person. My faith has always been of great importance to me, even during those dark nights of the soul when I was quite angry with God for making me as I am. It was only after years of study, searching, and counseling, that I came to not only accept who I am, but to actually realize that by being transgender God enhanced my life far, far above what it would have been as a hetero-normative individual.
As I came to both embrace my being, and move towards transitioning to my current gender, however, it became ever so readily apparent that not all denominations, or even congregations within a denomination were able to both talk/preach the word of Christ, but also to live and love as Christ directs and demands.
As I began to conclude that I would need to transition to survive, I had to ensure that my church would accept me. I had just read a couple of books by the liberal theologian, Bishop John Shelby Spong. Shortly thereafter I learned that Eastern Shore Chapel was bringing him to the church as part of their Chapel Speaker Series! I attended his presentations on Friday night and Saturday morning, then the regular service on Sunday morning – and my church home was set.
It was important to me that, moving forward in my life, my church knew who I was, so I immediately made appointments and met with the clergy telling all of them about my situation. Over the course of the next several years, I became more and more involved in my parish life. The parish sponsored an Integrity Chapter, and I served as its first Convenor, then on the Board of Directors. I commenced the four-year Education for Ministry (EFM) course. That first year, giving my spiritual autobiography included one of the most challenging decisions I would ever make as, to this point in time, only my wife, the clergy, and my counselors were aware that I was transgender. I vacillated back-and-forth for days uncertain how to proceed. At the last minute I made the decision to make the disclosure – fearful of the consequences – and ecstatic with the compassion of my classmates.
By the second year of EFM I was attending as the person that I truly am, as Donna. By the third year I knew that I would be making the public transition and slowly began expanding the circle of parishioners who knew both of my situation and of my impending transition.
On August 7, 2014 I underwent Facial Feminization Surgery, with Sunday, August 24th to be my first time attending church as Donna. As I dressed that morning for church – the first time that I would publicly attend a church service as a woman – I was a little apprehensive. Not exactly nervous, and definitely not scared, yet – still – this was a big step. I arrived at church about 10 minutes before the service, as is my habit. I think we all know how people tend to always sit in the same general area of the church each Sunday. Almost like we all have assigned seats/pews. Well, that morning, within mere minutes I WAS SURROUNDED by people, packed in near me almost like sardines in a can. It was mostly women, but a few men as well. It was a visible sign of support to me; and it was a visible sign – to the rest of the congregation – of the parish’s support for me. Several ladies told me that they had not intended on attending church that Sunday, but they knew that it was to be my first service as Donna, and they wanted to be there for me! Another lady welcomed me to “the women’s team!” Over the past three months my full and complete acceptance as a woman member of our parish has been total and complete.
Not every aspect of my transition has gone so smoothly. While I am truly blessed at how well it has gone, the family impact has been significant. But – I simply do not know where I would be today without my faith and my parish.
I have attended more churches than the average person. I left the Catholic Church as a teenager and, during college, “deliberately wandered” checking out every mainline Christian denomination I could: Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, you name it, I tried it. The beauty of diversity is that there is a church for anyone who searches. None is better nor worse than any other, but we all/each have our own comfort levels. During my wandering I was continually drawn to St. Paul’s Episcopal in my college town. When I commenced active duty in the Navy the basic options were Roman Catholic or “generic” Protestant. Well into my 25 years of active duty Naval service I converted to the Episcopal Church – which I by then recognized as being on the leading edge of mainline Christianity with regards to the full acceptance (no * - meaning no exception) ordination, and consecration – as Priests and Bishops – of women, gay, lesbian, and most recently, transgender individuals.
For me, for many years now, my time at church – and not just for Sunday services – are among the most fulfilling and happiest days of my life.
How nice to have a church that not just preaches, but actually practices, Christianity!