A prayerful lament + vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance

This service, co-written with Bunny Wilder, follows a liturgical framework from the Christian tradition and was originally hosted by Streams of Justice on Trans Day of Remembrance 2019. More here about Trans Day of Remembrance, including a link to the List of Names. We share with the hope others can use parts of this service, or the liturgy as a whole, in their own stay-at-home vigils.

In pandemic conditions, holding a vigil will look different, but grieving practices are—as ever—integral to ground us, connect us, and move us towards freer futures. Let us hold rituals with thought and intention, knowing lament leads to transformation.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

We begin by lighting the Christ candle, welcoming the presence of an embodied Creator in our midst. We also shroud the communion elements, recognizing that Christ died at the hands of state-enacted violence, and his body was placed in a tomb. In trans Latinx theologian Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza’s words, to be trans is to live in Holy Saturday, to have yet to see full transformation and liberation. We recognize that trans people are crucified people, that trans grief and rage are prophetic and powerful, that trans lives are sacred.

lighting of the candle and/or incense
welcoming of Christ, Creator God, ancestors

Land Acknowledgement 

As we begin, we acknowledge that we gather on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people. We sit with the knowledge that the same colonial powers that took this land continue to enact violence against Indigenous people, especially those who are trans and Two-Spirit. We enter this service acknowledging our complicity with this violence, and thus, in a posture of contemplation and deep repentance.

Creator God, forgive us for the ways we let colonial violence go unchallenged.

All: Creator God, forgive us.

Orientation to Lament: Opening

Tonight, we mourn the lives lost, and the disproportionate systemic and interpersonal violence against trans people—especially trans women and femmes of colour, especially sex worker women. We lament all violence done to trans people on these territories and all over the world, and the systems and structures that degrade, dehumanize, incarcerate, criminalize, and kill with impunity. 

In this particular place and at this particular time, we grieve the suicide rates of queer and trans youth, the multi-layered colonial violence against Indigenous trans women and Two-Spirit people, the destructive dogma of the West Coast Accord and harm caused by trans exclusionary and anti-SOGI ideologies. We grieve the ways your character has been distorted and your scriptures weaponized against your trans children, who are unconditionally and completely beloved.

Creator God, heal us from indifference and move us to Christ-like solidarity, extending welcome and care to the margins.

All: Creator God, heal us.

Tonight, we also bring our grief for the ways our trans siblings have been excluded and ostracized from the church, from congregations and communities, and disallowed from flourishing as their full selves and sharing their good gifts. We lament the complicity of the church in anti-trans violence and exclusion. We hold the heaviness of grief for spaces which have yet to see full affirmation for queer and trans people. We yearn to see your world restored and all people, all identities, all bodies celebrated as sacred and whole.

Creator God, transform our thinking, our language, our churches, and our communities so we may fully recognize all people as your children.

All: Creator God, transform us.

Prayer for Transgender Day of Remembrance 

by Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, United Church of Christ

How long, O God?
How long will transgender people suffer shame and loss because of who we are?
How long must we bear pain in our souls, and have sorrow in our hearts all day long?
How long shall we have enemies who persecute us, ridicule us, and gloat over us? 
(adapted from Psalm 10)

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have prevailed.” 
(from Ps 13)

Why do you stand far off, hiding yourself in times of trouble?
In fear the violent attack the vulnerable –
Let them be caught in the schemes their hearts have devised.
In confusion and disturbance the oppressors say,
“There is no God who cares for the meek –
No God will find me out.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression
They sit in ambush
In stealth they murder the innocent.
The helpless fall by their might.

They think:  “God has forgotten the transgender women, trans people of colour, non-binary people, trans children and youth, the gender-queer and intersex – God has hidden God’s face.”

Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand
Do not forget the oppressed. 
(from Ps 10)

Why do murderers rage, and fearful people plot in vain?
Those in power, and those who long for power, conspire
Against the precious anointed of the Lord.
In heaven God laughs at their presumption.
I will tell of the decree of the Living, Mighty God
Who said to me, “You are my child. Today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the earth itself your inheritance.” 

(from Ps 2)

Reading of Names

lighting of candles and/or 
placing of flowers as names are read

Time of Silence


Adapted from “Advent 1: What We’re Waiting For,” a sermon by Mary Ann Saunders for St. Brigid‘s

We come now to the communion table, remembering that God came to us in a human body: messy, fragile, unpredictable, infinite God embodied in finite flesh. We are reminded, in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s words, that “God slipped into human skin because God saves us in our bodies, not from our bodies.”

Here, we hold all bodies as sacred: queer and trans bodies, old or young bodies; tattooed, pierced, and scarred bodies; currently abled bodies or bodies living with disability; menstruating or pregnant or chestfeeding bodies; large bodies or small bodies; growing or aging bodies. We all live in transformed and transforming bodies, bodies which may sometimes feel like they’re ours and at other times feel strange and unfamiliar. And where these bodies are, there God is. “We are the clay, and you, O God, are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

On the night Jesus was betrayed, he was with his friends sharing a meal. He took bread and broke it, saying, this is my body, broken for your body. Then He took the cup and after giving thanks, he blessed it, saying, this is my blood, shed for your blood.

serving of the elements to one another

A Prayer Towards Trans Cosmology

Adapted from “And God Hovered Over the Face of the Deep: Transgressing Gender”, a sermon by Dr. Robyn Espinoza 

God, before gender and before language,
You created us, in neplanta, made of dust:
hovering over the surface of the deep, 
being and becoming.

From dust, like the deep, primordial:
You shaped earth-creatures with divine hands,
Animated us with holy breath.

Create in us a posture of deep welcome,
an imagination beyond colonial and binary logic.
Unbind us from systems and theologies that harm.

May we commit to turning inward as much as turning outward.
Let our inner lives align with just social practices,
and the spaces we inhabit be welcome to all.

Help us embrace the both/and of your creation,
and to remember who you have made us to be: 
especially those of us whose embodiment is threatened.

Energize us with the prophetic edge of your Spirit.
Our work remains unfinished until all of us are free.

Ashé, Amen, Blessed be.


An Imprecatory Prayer to the Transestors by Sophia Zarders

To The Trans Ancestors & Elders who have guided us here:
We honor your legacy with new celebrations.

May our bodies persist, let them shine whole & well.
May our minds calibrate to the call of the universe.

Let our protest songs transfigure to peace hymns.
Let our cultural knowledge produce nourishment.

May our homes bustle warm with abundant love.
May our communities flourish despite borders.

Let our love quake open any lingering shackle.
Let our joy obliterate any festering contempt. 

As we bind each other closer,
we manifest futures more possible.


Sacred songs for Trans Day of Remembrance

Further Reading

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Spiritual resources


  • National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: advocates for Black trans people in the areas of housing, healthcare, employment, and education. Currently collecting donations for the Community Response Fund which provides rapid response funds for emergency food, shelter, utilities, transportation and health care, life saving PPE and referral to resources for Black trans people at their point of need during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative: building Black trans futurist frameworks for abolition and supporting Black trans lives in Atlanta, Georgia, especially in the criminal justice system, and working to eradicate criminalization and gender-based violence.
  • Coalition Against Trans Antagonism: local organization organizing against anti-trans violence and supporting trans folks. The Trans Resiliency Fund is a collective fund which supports low-income trans people of colour in what is colonially known as Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

About the artwork

The image for this post is a collage I made of Marsha P. Johnson, one of the trans women of colour who instigated the Stonewall Uprising, an early touchpoint in the LGBTQ+ movement. Marsha was an outspoken activist for gay liberation, drag queen, sex worker, and co-founder, along with Sylvia Rivera, of STAR, a radical political collective that provided housing and support to homeless LGBTQ youth.


martinstag: a day for peace

This post was written with the help of Benjamin Hertwig, partner, co-conspirer, veteran, and PhD student focusing on contemporary war narratives in Canada.

November 11 is Martinstag, or St. Martin’s Day, a liturgical day commemorating the death of Saint Martin. In Germany (where Benjamin’s family is from) Martinstag is celebrated with paper lantern processions, feasting, and bonfires. Today, we’re making pretzels to celebrate the occasion.

Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who left the military after converting to Christianity, founding Ligugé Abbey, one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in France. He was jailed for cowardice after refusing to continue in Caesar’s conquest, saying “I am the soldier of Christ: it is unlawful for me to fight.” His most well known saintly act was cutting a cloak in two with his sword to give half to a beggar. As such, he is the patron saint of beggars, wool-weavers and tailors, and geese (their migration coincides with his feast), as well as—reflective of the paradoxes of sainthood when tangled in empire and nation—the US Army Quartermaster Corps and of the French Third Republic. What might this feast day, named for a military deserter turned contemplative, teach us?

In Canada, November 11 is also Remembrance Day: a public holiday observed in Commonwealth settler-colonies since WWI in memorial of members of the armed forces, those who, we are often told “fought and died for our freedom.” Many are familiar with the fraught nature of this day: the sanctified pageantry of bagpipe processions, “In Flanders Fields,” and red poppies contrasted with the homelessness rates among veterans and lack of mental health support for returning soldiers, particularly so in America but also in Canada. Dominant narratives valourize “noble” soldier deaths over countless unacknowledged civilian deaths, which is why some choose to wear white poppies instead. Contemporary Remembrance Day celebrations often devolve into drunken forms of patriotic revelry, in Benjamin’s experience—perhaps a symptom of the desire to forget rather than truly remember the horrors of war, what Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan called “a last ditch moral nightmare… hand in hand with death.”

The problem with Remembrance Day is not only how it mythologizes war, but how it reveals what the state remembers and what it forgets, and who we as citizens choose to mourn. Feminist theorist Judith Butler addresses this form of national amnesia in Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? when she asks her readers to consider “whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable.” State ceremonies for Remembrance Day, in all their pomp and solemnity, function more as propaganda for patriotism than memorial, especially considering the historic violent erasure and criminalization of Indigenous ceremonies for the purposes of colonial consolidation of land and eradication of Indigenous people. These days, as Mi’kmaq lawyer Dr. Pamela Palmater puts it, the strategy has shifted from the overt elimination of scalp bounties and forced sterilization to institutionalization through prisons, policing, social work, and the foster care system. “White supremacy,” she reminds us, “will kill to keep itself alive.” Cree poet Billy-Ray Belcourt writes in his poem “god’s river:”

remind them
that canada is
four hundred
—call it colonialism

to live in
trenches like these
is to be
civilian casualty
and soldier all at once

Lest we forget, God has strong words for the hypocrisy of people who cling to performative ritual without doing the work of justice and care for the poor and marginalized: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5: 21-24)

On Saint Martin’s Day, will we refuse state mythologies of war in the spiritual lineage of the Quakers, Catholic Workers, dissenters, and war resisters, choosing instead the way of the cross—embodied solidarity with the incarcerated, occupied, and oppressed? Will we hear Jesus’s calls in the Garden of Gethsemane to put our swords away? Will we choose to remember those killed not only in war but by the violence of the state, those victim to the ongoing violence enacted by colonial powers at home and imperial military forces abroad: the Missing and Murdered, the Black and Indigenous people terrorized by police brutality, the migrants displaced by Canadian corporations and extractive development in Central America? Let us choose to be peace workers, not for the false peace of the status-quo or empty calls for “unity” without justice, but for the peace of Christ: dismantling all forms of violence in favour of radical, border-crossing, empire-resisting inclusion and love, love in the bell hooksian sense, a political ethic and act of will.

Good Gardener God,
Awaken us to a world beyond war:
beyond its mechanisms of violence,
its systematic desecration of your children,
your poor and racialized, your living creation.
You call us into abundant life for all,
into a future free of colonial and capitalist domination.
You seat us at your banqueting table warmed by
a bonfire of burning flags and melted down weapons,
where the only banner is love.

Grant us courage as we strive for peace,
fortitude as we practice resurrection and resistance.
May we march, garden, feast, work, and play in assurance
and hope that you will, in the fullness of time,
restore all things and, in joy and co-liberation,
lead us into your peaceable kin-dom.


Prayers & liturgies for St. Martin’s Day

Christian Peacemaker Teams: Litany of Resistance | Written by Jim Loney in 1991 during the first Gulf War, this litany serves as both prayer and collective commitment to resisting war and violence as a spiritual imperative.

For an End to Violence at the Hands of the State
by Kenji Kuramitsu, from A Booklet of Uncommon Prayer: Collects for the Black Lives Matter Movement & Beyond

Mother God,
who has longed to gather all her children
under her mighty wings,
you are our good Parent and Caregiver.

Rupture, O Giver of Truth,
the status quo of racialized violence that infects your land,
and teach us through your divine Word
to reject the false promises of state peace
in favour of the presence of the dangerous justice of Christ.


Art for St. Martin’s Day

Songs for St. Martin’s Day

Further Reading & Resources


when the spirit comes: a poem for pentecost

I originally wrote this poem for Pentecost in 2017 and updated it for Pentecost 2020, and performed it at Grandview Church in East Vancouver and (virtually) at Inhabit Conference. It is inspired by South Korean and ecofeminist theologian Chung Hyun-Kyung’s address to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra, Australia in February 1991, entitled “Welcome the Spirit; hear her cries.” For the written version below, I’ve included footnotes to contextualize the poem for non-local readers.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes swift and surprising,
She comes jubilant brass band at a potluck joyful,
She comes laughing loudly in public and unashamed.
She walks the Drive1 like a busker queen,
Like an overflowing garden, like the sun itself
throwing shade to the rain,
for pain will not have the last word in the hip hop
holy freestyle fire poured out
When the Spirit comes.

1 | Commercial Drive, or “The Drive,” is a street in East Vancouver, historic Little Italy, where peoplewatching yields an eclectic mix of buskers, drum-circling hippies, and bocce-playing seniors, home base of the annual Dyke March. | Photo: Michelle Bruton on Flickr

When the Spirit comes,
She comes in power. At her heels,
SROs2 made safe, the Balmoral2 reborn,
The houseless made next door neighbours.
At her heels, sidewalks flower and parking lots blossom,
The sirens stilled on Main and Hastings3,
The storm of honking hushed on First Ave.
As she dances, a crowd of rainbows,
A party of pride, queer joy without shame.
As she sings, women no longer missing3 found,
The Highway of Tears4 turned tent of feasting –
For all will eat together in right relations,
Whole and well and welcome
When the Spirit comes.

2 | The Balmoral is one of the Downtown Eastside’s notorious SROs, or Single Resident Occupancy hotels, known for their inhumane conditions (lack of running water, broken locks, corrupt slumlords), and yet one of the only housing options available next to street homelessness. The City ordered the evacuation of the Balmoral in 2017.

3 | Main and Hastings are the primary cross streets of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), Canada’s poorest urban postal code and epicentre of the opioid crisis, a neighbourhood characterized by its fierce community advocacy and endless creativity, and birthplace of the Women’s Memorial March which honours the lives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo: Jen Castro on Flickr

4 | The Highway of Tears is a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. Since 2008, families of the missing have marched the Highway in the Walk4Justice.

When the Spirit comes,
She tumbles from each tongue like water,
Cantonese in Chinatown5 herbal shops,
Punjabi in South Hill6,
Anishinaabemowin7 and Cree and
Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓7 flourishing and free.
Little libraries of lost and found languages
On every corner she breathes.
At her heels, Hogan’s Alley8 restored.
At her heels, Japantown9 breathed whole.
For the Lord says I will show my wonders
Of a city for all people
For the elders and disabled
Blessed and safe,
For the drum beats strong and
thick smudge of sage
Till our home on native #LANDBACK10
She’s counting the days
For all will have their right to place
In the days when the Spirit comes.

5 | Chinatown in Vancouver (photo: CCAP) overlapping with the DTES and home to low-income seniors (Cantonese, Mandarin and Taishanese speaking), is rapidly gentrifying, endangering essential needs access, housing, and livelihood of residents.

6 | South Hill (mistakenly mentioned in the original video as South Fraser Street) is also known as Punjabi Market or Little India, where South Asian immigrants settled near 49th and Main Street in Vancouver.

7 | Anishinaabemowin refers to an Ojbwe language in the Algonkian family. Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is a Musqueam language; Vancouver is located on the traditional and unceded (untreatied) territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh.

8 | Hogan’s Alley (photo: Vancouver Archives) was the home of Vancouver’s Black community before it was displaced by the construction of the Georgia Viaduct; currently, Hogan’s Alley Society is negotiating the future of the block redevelopment with the City.

9 | Japantown (Paueru Gai) was the cultural centre of Japanese Canadian immigrants in Vancouver until internment during WWII, afterwards which the community never recovered. Community efforts such as the Powell Street Festival continue to celebrate Japanese arts and culture, intergenerational programming, and connection with the DTES on the site of historic Japantown.

10| #LANDBACK is a rallying call and movement for land reclamation and defence of Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the face of continued colonial policies and extractive industry.

When the Spirit comes,
She comes unstoppable. She comes
Dirt under her fingernails and unbrushed hair
She comes with the scent of earth on her skin.
At her heels, backyard gardens leap into life
At her hands, honeybees once dead take flight.
For the earth and all that is in it singing the blues
the Spirit brings gospel choir good news
The hope of a groaning world renewed,
For the mountains will have peace
And the ocean reefs abound,
The purple starfish return to Howe Sound11
The forests dance for their Creator crowned
In the days when the Spirit comes.

11 | Howe Sound (Atl’ka7tsem in Squamish) has experienced a mass mortality of sea stars, symptomatic of sea star wasting disease which has been connected to ocean warming and climate change. In recent years, observers have documented high densities of baby sea stars re-settling in the area. Photo: Donna Gibbs/Oceanwise