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Norwegian church holds name change ceremony for a transgender woman

Pastor Stein Ovesen, who led the ceremony, said it is "an important act that expresses the grace and openness that God shows me."
The medieval Hoff church north of the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
The medieval Hoff church north of the Norwegian capital, Oslo.Google

A Lutheran church in Norway held a name change ceremony for a 49-year-old transgender woman in what officials said marked the first such event in a place of worship in the Nordic country.

Elin Stillingen legally changed her name and gender last year. She marked the occasion at Saturday’s ceremony at the medieval Hoff church north of the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

Stillingen said it was particularly important for her that the event took place in a church.

“I’m a member of the Norwegian church, and I’m also about to come ‘out of the closet’ as a Christian, so this ceremony is important to me,” Stillingen told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 ahead of the ceremony Saturday.

The occasion was led by pastor Stein Ovesen who planned the ceremony with the Stensveen Foundation, a Norwegian non-governmental organization supporting people with challenges related to their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“I know that so many are grateful that this event has come true, because this goes deep into the lives of people,” Ovesen told TV2.

However, Ovesen acknowledged that not everyone in Norway approved of marking such an event in a church.

“On the conservative wing, you will find priests who are deeply concerned about what we do today. But for me this is an important act that expresses the grace and openness that God shows me,” Ovesen told TV2.

Video footage from TV2 showed Stillingen kneeling down in front of Ovesen at the church filled with her friends and family members. After the ceremony, Stillingen said “it feels very right” and “I’m very, very happy.”

The day after the ceremony, Stillingen wrote on Facebook that the ceremony "was like coming home, and Jesus was there."

She added that she's very proud to be among the first trans people to have such a ceremony in a church in Norway, and that she knows other trans people who would like to have similar ceremonies in the future.

Norwegians, like their Nordic neighbors in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, are predominantly Lutherans. The liberal-minded Nordic countries are strong advocates for LGBTQ rights and women’s rights.

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Jo Yurcaba contributed.