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This article was published 27/5/2019 (796 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As the first openly ordained transgender deacon in the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land, Theo Robinson feels called by God to help heal the rift between LGBTTQ*people and the church.
"I want to show people who are afraid to go to church (because of their sexuality) they are welcome," said Robinson, 40.
"I want to help heal the wounds of those who have been rejected."
Robinson, who works in spiritual care at Misericordia Place, was ordained May 1 to serve as a transitional deacon — someone on the path to priesthood.
Robinson, who grew up Roman Catholic in Winnipeg, was taken to church by his parents as a child. Like many others, in his early teens he decided not to attend anymore.
Although not churchgoing, "I still believed and felt God was real," he said.
At the age of 19, he — then she — came out as a lesbian. "I knew it my whole life," he said. "I didn’t like dresses. I was a tomboy."
Married in 2008, Robinson and his then-wife decided they wanted children.
"Miraculously, I got pregnant on the first try," he said of their experience with a fertility clinic. "We began to buy clothes and furniture and we made a list of possible names for our little baby."
But after 10 weeks, he miscarried. Filled with grief, the first thing he wanted to do was go to church.
At a Baptist church near his home, he found the service "uplifting and comforting, allowing me space to mourn... I cried through the entire service. It was a moment that turned me back towards God and the church."
A year later, a daughter was born. Robinson wanted her to be baptized and raised in a church, but he wasn’t sure where to go. Then he met Helen Kennedy, an Anglican priest who invited him to her church, St. George’s Anglican Parish.
"I hadn’t been going to church regularly for a long time," he said of the experience. "It felt so good to be back again."
At first, Robinson was worried about being rejected because of his sexuality. "But everyone was so accepting," he said. "I reconnected with God and my beliefs."
Over time, he became more involved in reading scripture and leading prayers. When he saw friends become deacons, "I realized I, too, was being called to be ordained."
With encouragement from Kennedy, he decided to seek ordination as a deacon with an eye to becoming a priest.
While working full time in accounting for a seed company, he began studies at the University of Winnipeg’s United Centre for Theological Studies. He will graduate in June with his bachelor of theology — a member of the centre’s last graduating class.
During that process, he also realized he was male. In 2016 he changed his name from Theresa Jennifer to TJ and started exploring the idea of living more gender-neutral. In spring 2017, he began the process of transitioning and came out publicly.
Once again, there were worries about being accepted. But St. George’s was supportive, he said, and so was former Diocese of Rupert’s Land bishop Donald Phillips.
"With the support of my partner and two wonderful children, and support from the church, I was absolutely certain that I had found my proper path in life," he said.
Current Rupert’s Land Bishop Geoff Woodcroft said Robinson’s ordination was special for two reasons.
First, because Robinson was the first person he ordained as bishop. Second, because of his "giftedness, compassion, and desire to serve God. Theo is not special just because he is transgender, but because of the gifts he brings."
By ordaining him, Woodcroft said the Diocese is "sending a clear and important signal we are welcoming and open to the wider Anglican church in Canada and around the world."
Woodcroft notes while Robinson is the first openly transgender person to be ordained as a deacon, there may be others who never made it public — people the Diocese doesn’t know about.
Yet, he heard no objections, he said, which isn’t surprising since almost 90 per cent of clergy and lay people in the Diocese are in favour of same-sex blessings. "We are just living into that reality," he stated.
As Robinson’s friend and priest at St. George’s, Kennedy said, "it’s been lovely to watch him learn and grow, to see him come into his own."
He will be a "wounded healer," she said, someone who "understands the pain of marginalized people and who can reach out to them. His story will resonate with many others."
As for Robinson, the whole process has been "a wild ride of introspection, reflection and self-discovery."
His goal is to be "someone who bridges the gap between the church and those rejected by the church, especially in the LGBTTQ* community."
Robinson’s only regret is he won’t be able to march in this year’s Pride parade, on June 2, as an ordained deacon; he’ll be in Toronto at a spiritual care conference.
But even if he can’t be seen that day on the streets of downtown Winnipeg, he wants his life to be "a public light, a beacon of hope for others that things are changing. I want to show the church can be accepting and welcoming, welcoming the whole person, every piece of their being."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.