Presider: Blessed be the God of Sarai revealed as Sarah, Jacob who became Israel, and Simon called Peter.
People: Blessed be the God who comes among us, reconciles us, and sets us free.
Epiphany is when we celebrate the revelation of Christ to the world. From the visitation of the Magi to Jesus’ baptism to his first miracles, we experience God’s child as God reveals their divinity. We don’t often think of self-revelation during this time – the self-work comes in Advent and Lent in preparation and repentance. Yet Epiphany is a time that welcomes opening ourselves to who God might reveal us to be.
Names Have Power
At General Convention 2018, The Episcopal Church formally approved “A Service of Renaming” as a liturgy to be included in The Book of Occasional Services (p. 120). With the Epiphany, there is a parallel between the revelation of Christ and the revelation of who we are when called by our name. Throughout the Bible, the faithful are given new names to signify transformation or promise. In the garden, it is when Jesus calls her by name that Mary recognizes him. Names have power and meaning.
A Service of Renaming
While anyone can experience taking on a new name, this service is particularly meaningful for transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) folks. Coming into the fullness of our identity often includes choosing a new name. A Service of Renaming provides a celebratory affirmation of our new name within a faith community that seeks to recognize and honor us on our journey toward the fullness of ourselves as made in the image of God.
The Presider turns to the candidate, asking, How do you respond to God’s invitation?
The Candidate responds: I am a new creation, grateful to embody Christ’s image.
The Power of Celebrating Renaming in Our Faith Community
“God knows you in the fullest way possible, more than you do, more than others do. Each of us is an icon in Christ,” says Mother Sarka,* of the Universalist Orthodox Church. “Coming to know ourselves as God knows us can only be a part of seeking spiritual truth and we can’t seek truth of God without an unobstructed heart.” She emphasizes that this kind of self-knowing requires self-love in order for our true selves to be revealed. Mother Sarka is like many others in the LGBTQ+ community who had to leave a non-affirming faith tradition. “But home is home, you know?” she says, which is how her church came to be. Through her ministry, she performed services of renaming for others before she experienced it herself. At her consecration as bishop, she was given her turn. Of finally receiving the blessing of a new name, she says, “To be able to have this done in my own tradition is a gift that many don’t get to experience.”
Enrique and Hannah are among the transgender and GNC folks whose churches joined them in celebrating their names and affirming their identities through A Service of Renaming. With supportive clergy, they got to design the services in ways that reflect who they are. Enrique says, “The rite was incredibly meaningful for me, and a line of scripture from the Gospel reading has stuck with me since: “’Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven.’ It reminds me that our names and identities are sacred, and that we’re participating in the act of creation with God.” For Hannah, important themes spoke to her: “The history of renaming in the Bible, and how it often comes with a new journey, a new way of doing life.” She says, “The process of building liturgy was important, to go through something as part of the service, to mark the change.”
Our Wholeness Can Be Celebrated Liturgically
Recognizing the fullness of who we are is expressed in our liturgy. As people who follow Jesus and celebrate the very human and very divine life he lived, embodiment is a key element of our faith. This Epiphany, as we experience Jesus’ divinity revealed through the Magi, through his baptism, through his first miracles, may we dare to believe that our wholeness, too, can be revealed to us through celebrations in the church. And when we affirm and recognize the image of God in all who come through our doors, that revelation becomes ever more powerful.
The Presider concludes:
Holy One of blessing, you created us in your image and pronounced us good. We give you thanks for the gift of life itself. We thank you for our individual names, which connect us to the One who spoke all creation into being. We rejoice in our shared calling to the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.
*Her Beatitude, Metropolitan (Vladychitsa) + Olga Archbishop of the Great Lakes and All America, First Hierarch of the Universalist Orthodox Church
Many thanks to those who shared their experiences with name change and its celebration within their faith community.