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
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
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
- The Porter’s Gate: Christ Has No Body Now But Yours
- Bifrost Arts: How Long?
- Bifrost Arts: O God, Will You Restore Us?
- The Porter’s Gate: Precious Woman (A Lament)
- 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.