by Will McQuillan
Next summer, Chestnut Hill United Church will offer a one-week TransCamp for transgender, gender expansive, and non-binary children and youth.
“All kids need a safe place where they can feel honored, celebrated, and affirmed. The world can be a tough place for [queer] children,” said Rev. Linda Noonan, Senior Pastor at Chestnut Hill United. “The church hopes to create a small, brief space where kids can dream, create, express, wonder, experience their own beauty, power, and purpose, meet trans adults who model possibilities and potential, and know they belong.”
The TransCamp’s creators and main organizers will be trans members of the Chestnut Hill United congregation and the larger Philadelphia community. Camp programming will focus on affirming campers’ gender identity and expression, and build traits like courage, perseverance, creativity, and compassion. It will not provide religious education.
In 2002, the Chestnut Hill United congregation voted to allow LGBTQ members full participation in the church community. This marked it as a “reconciling congregation” with policies that directly oppose official United Methodist denominational doctrine, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” For 20 years, Chestnut Hill United’s leadership has included at least one queer pastor.
“As a trans minister myself, I’m excited by the congregation’s commitment to trans individuals and communities. TransCamp feels like a natural outgrowth of those commitments and an opportunity for us to meet a need for [local] trans youth,” said Rev. Dr. Kerr Mesner, a Metropolitan Community Church minister and member of the Chestnut Hill United’s TransCamp Steering Committee.
The camp was conceived in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, as the Chestnut Hill United congregation formally discussed the meaning of the word “sanctuary.” Last year, Noonan preached about the idea for a TransCamp while congregants constructed a blanket fort to explore how a safe space can look and feel.
“What does it mean for a small, progressive church with few resources to offer sanctuary, safe space, in a time of heightened tension and increased marginalization of transfolk, people of color, and those without ‘acceptable’ documentation?” said Noonan. “What does it mean to be intentional about making sure there is space for people who have been traditionally alienated from the church? Creating a space to honor some of our most vulnerable children and youth and support their families seemed like a natural next step.”
While congregation members have provided the seed money, Chestnut Hill United Church hopes to raise additional funds from the wider community so that TransCamp can be made available to participants at no cost, and so trans adults in leadership will be well-compensated for their time, labor, and gifts. If you are interested in sponsoring a camper, supporting the camp financially, or for more information, please contact Rev. Linda Noonan at email@example.com.
Will McQuillan is a Local intern.