I would like to introduce you to Theo Robinson, a theological student who has been training to be a minister at St. Luke’s for the 2017–2018 academic year. Though I have always known him to be authentic and sincere, when I met him back in 2011, things were quite different. Most notably, Theo was going by his birth name: Theresa Jennifer Robinson. He was also facing several losses, including that of a child in pregnancy, his marriage, which had been an integral part of his identity for over a decade, and his sense of self. A newly single parent living at his mom’s, he was reserved, shy, and grieving. And, he was about to begin a journey of self-discovery which would change not only his career path but also his whole world.
Though an accountant by trade, Theo felt unhappy in his career and where he felt his heart was calling him. Through prayer and contemplation, he rediscovered his relationship with God and knew in his heart that the Church was the place where he was meant to be. However, the path to completing this journey was anything but simple.
As many know, the history of the Church’s relationship with the LGBTQ2A community has not always been the best. This was Theo’s biggest struggle in accepting his calling from God as, at the time, there were few openly accepting and affirming churches. The Anglican Church of Canada allows individual churches to make the decisions best fitting their congregations, and has seen divisions in congregations and churches as a result. In initial conversations regarding Theo’s postulant and, eventually, ministry placements, it was a concern that was raised more than once. Fortunately, both the Diocese of Rupert’s Land and Bishop Don Phillips have been incredibly supportive in this journey.
In spring 2017, Theo realized that there was a part of himself to which he was not being true: Not something missing, but an integral part of himself that he was too afraid to acknowledge or accept. With much reflection, soul searching, and prayer he came to the understanding that he was a transgender man.
This is the biggest conflict I’ve ever seen him work through. He struggled during this time, wondering if he would be accepted by his family and friends and worrying about his profession standing in the Church. After several years of university studies, hard work, and dedication, would it all be taken away because he was “different” again? Was it worth coming out? Theo was yet again faced with a difficult decision: should he come out and accept the risk of possibly losing his path to ministry? Or should he continue to hide himself away and just keep his head down to simply get by?
Over the last few months, Theo has rededicated himself to his studies and his pursuit of ministry. He has had many difficult conversations, including seeking out the support of Bishop Don and (much to Theo’s surprise) receiving it wholeheartedly. In that discussion, Theo discovered that, to Bishop Don’s knowledge he is the first openly transgender individual who has sought ordination in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land and possibly the whole Anglican Church of Canada. He has been blessed with the chance to make a difference for not only himself and the church, and to be a part of healing the relationship between the Church and the LGBTQ2A community as a whole.
I have seen extraordinary growth from Theo in the five years leading up to his transition, and in the one year since his transition began. His confidence has grown, and he is not afraid to speak up, to share his life and his story with those he meets. Theo has become a trailblazer for transgender individuals within the Diocese of Rupert’s Land and even possibly the Anglican Church of Canada – for transgender parishioners and ministers who have been too afraid or are unable to speak their truth. Gone are the days when being transgender and Christian was unheard of. The church is built on the love and acceptance of all God’s children. “All are Welcome” is no longer just a slogan on a billboard, but instead the way we love and the way we live our lives.
This article was adapted from a newsletter for St. Luke’s Anglican.
Cass Smith is a Winnipeg-based, peace-loving hippy. She and Theo have two little monsters (ages 9 & 7). When she isn’t working, you can find her chauffeuring kids to activities, cheering at her kids’ football and rugby games, or elbow deep in her current craft project.