Click here for General Assembly coverage

“Walk with me, for the journey is long”

Rachel Young reflects on her friendship with Catherine, a trans woman whose life invites her to know Christ in a new way. 

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

I met my friend Catherine for the first time this summer when we both showed up to the same orientation meeting for Iona Abbey volunteers. Catherine was working in the Iona Community Shop, and I was a brand-new member of the housekeeping team. Catherine had arrived one week before me, so she knew some things about volunteer life on the Isle of Iona that helped me settle in far more quickly than I would have otherwise. I knew we would be friends when I made a gaffe about how much “I hate wet pants.” I was referring to my jeans, which had gotten soaked as I walked to the abbey for the meeting. The operations manager was startled and highly offended until Catherine began laughing and reminded me that “pants” in the U.K. are another word for “underpants” and that I was referring to “wet trousers.” It is remarkable how many times Catherine’s gentle correction and laughter carried me through too many American or cis-gendered gaffs.

As I got to know Catherine better, I learned that her transition in embracing her identity as a transgendered woman was brand new — not even the church where she had been a church worker before coming to Iona knew her as Catherine until she came out over Facebook later in the summer. She was living into the identity that had been within her for years. As a result, she had faced rejection from her life partner and an underlying sense of self-hatred. And yet, even amid this pain, Catherine shone with the light of Christ. She welcomed everyone she encountered on the island with a warm, hospitable openness. She was quick to laugh and led the occasional morning and evening worship service with charisma. When I struggled with guilt at being away from my family for two months, she reminded me of why I was on sabbatical, and she prayed for me.

Catherine and Rachel enjoying a cream tea at the Argyll Hotel in the village. Photo by Rachel Young.

Catherine also pushed me toward becoming more vocal about LGBTQIA+ acceptance and rights. I pastor a congregation that is divided politically, and while I’ve been supportive of our LGBTQIA+ members, I haven’t been vocal about it, especially from the pulpit. I feared pushback from more conservative members. Early on in my time on the island (when I was unsure whether I wanted to do anything pastoral while on sabbatical), Catherine urged me to help her lead the Wednesday evening commitment service, which focused on celebrating queer faith that week. We used liturgical elements from a new publication from the Iona Community called “Grace Like Glitter: Resources for Pride.” As we planned the service, Catherine passionately and prophetically noted that American states like Texas, where I live, are actively suppressing trans people and taking away their rights, and “no one in the church is saying anything!” I was convicted about the damage the silence of people like me was doing to God’s beloved children.

Right before I left the island, Catherine let me borrow a dress (the clothes I had packed were functional for travel and housekeeping) and we shared a cream tea together at the Argyll Hotel. She gave me a beautiful gift — a rainbow to hang on my office wall with a reminder of one of the songs we sang several times in worship: “Walk with me, for the journey is long.” I hung this gift in a prominent place in my office, and when I see it, I not only think with fondness about my friend, but I consider how, now that I’m back in my busy routine, I will walk with my trans siblings in Christ, with love and no longer in silence.