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Pilgrimage, 2022 style

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Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage – 
Geoffrey Chaucer

VERY nice, Geoff – but it’s old ’at, innit? Chaucer’s pilgrims were off to Canterbury to reverence the shrine of Thomas a Becket, saint and martyr. But Becket is only a dead white male and, to make matters worse, a Christian. Today I am beginning to doubt whether the bearded wonder Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is also a Christian. His idea of a pilgrimage is a bit different from Chaucer’s.

Lord Williams says: ‘Becoming transgender is a sacred journey of becoming whole.’

So you don’t have leave your pint in the Tabard Inn, or any other boozer, and walk the 61 miles from Southwark to Canterbury cathedral. But before you decide to leave that pint unfinished on the bar, you’ll have to be prepared for a bit of mucking about. For you’ll need – if you are what used to be known as a woman:

Removal of both breasts (bilateral mastectomy) and associated chest reconstruction

Nipple repositioning

Dermal implant and tattoo

Construction of a penis (phalloplasty or metoidioplasty)

Construction of a scrotum (scrotoplasty) and testicular implants

A penile implant

Removal of the womb (hysterectomy) and the ovaries and fallopian tubes (salpingo-oophorectomy)

Or, if you are one of those weird creatures we used to know as blokes, you will require the:

Removal of the testes (orchidectomy)

Removal of the penis (penectomy)

Construction of a vagina (vaginoplasty)

Construction of a vulva (vulvoplasty)

Construction of a clitoris (clitoroplasty)

(Appropriate arrangements are available for children.)

Williams has signed a letter to the Prime Minister written by LGBT+ activist Steve Chalke demanding that a conversion therapy ban must not be limited to those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual, but must also include those who identify are transgender. Their letter continues:

‘To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole: precious, honoured and loved, by yourself, by others and by God. To allow those discerning this journey to be subject to coercive or undermining practices is to make prayer a means of one person manipulating another. It is a wrong-hearted notion of care and a wrong-headed understanding of conversion. Every church should be a safe space that affirms people in being who they are without fear of judgment.

‘We have waited four years for this. and we can’t wait any longer. A ban on conversion therapy must be now and it must be a ban for everyone, for all people, for LGB and T+ people.’

No doubt all this stuff is very fine and go-ahead, but I’m afraid it’s not for me. You see, I was brought up as a Christian in Leeds; and neither Fr Sillar, the vicar, nor Fr Sowerby, the curate knew owt o’ t’sort. But they did know that, to use Lord Williams’ phrase, sacred journeys are pilgrimages and they led the parish on them.

Every Whit Sunday, we climbed aboard one of Sammy Ledgard’s charabancs and drove to Fountains Abbey for Sung Mass among the ruins followed by cakes and ale.

And d’you know? I think I prefer that sort of sacred journey to one of Rowan’s sort.

When I think of what the former Archbishop of the city that holds Becket’s shrine has said, I wonder if we should send for the ministrations of those who used to identify as men in white coats?

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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