Celebrating a New Identity

“I’ll always remember a moment during the baptism renewal.  Karl was pouring water onto my head, which was streaming down my face. I was laughing and felt so alive, and then I caught Karl’s eye and saw him enjoying the moment as much as I was.” ~ River Gmur

We know the importance of publicly acknowledging someone’s name and identity.  This often happens when a child is born, at a christening or a naming ceremony.  But if not, we still feel the significance of that the moment when family and friends first meet the new baby.  They say, “hi there, little Emma”, and the child is recognised as a member of the community.

Someone’s identity can change over the course of life.  “I’ve gone by a lot of names in my life,” River told me.  “A few years ago, I knew I needed a non-gendered name, and I came to understand that God was leading me to the name River – which was also an image for understanding myself.”  

When an adult is in this position, we don’t yet have many culturally appropriate ways of publicly celebrating it.  This leaves some wondering whether their new identity is “real”.  

River describes how this can feel, “For legal reasons I had to wait two years before I could legally change my name to River.  But even then, the change didn’t always feel real to me.  I would have moments when I wasn’t quite sure who I was, what my name was. I wanted a naming ceremony where I would be given the name River so that I could experience it as something solid and permanent – as a name and as an identity.”

River’s baptism is still meaningful to her, so we decided to use a renewal of baptism vows.  It would recognise that the original ceremony applied to her current identity.

River reflects how “I was baptised as an infant, my parents deciding this and making baptismal vows on my behalf.  I wanted to declare my baptismal vows for myself, as myself in my new name and identity. The symbol of rebirth into a new life was also important to me.”

So, River stood and said her own vows in front of the congregation.  I poured water over River, and the community accepted her.  With some creativity and understanding, the recognition many of us take for granted can be shared with everyone.