The Ethiopian eunuch. Art by Julian K. Van Dyke.

On June 12, 2015, I had the unique opportunity to share a part of my story as part of a sermon series at my church, St. Alban’s, themed around the idea of “telling our stories”.  I’ve been going to St. Alban’s for about two years now, and it was a great honour for me to share part of my story with people who had played such an important part in shaping it.

Below is the text of my sermon, uploaded by request.

Update! : You can now listen to this sermon online as well! Thanks, St. Alban’s! 🙂

Readings prior to my talk:

Isaiah 56:1-5 // Salvation for Others
This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
2 Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

4 For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.

Acts 8:26-40 // Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said,“How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b]38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.


When it was suggested to me that I speak during this sermon series, that I “tell my story”, I honestly wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about. So I thought some, and I doodled some, and I prayed some–to use the language I grew up with, I prayerfully considered what God wanted me to talk about tonight–and this is what I’ve got for you today. This is the story of how I almost gave up on the Bible, but how this community brought me back.

Me, my father, and his mother, at my father’s ordination service.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a little bit of context. I have been an Anglican for almost as long as I can remember. My father is currently a vocational deacon in the Diocese of Ontario. My family started going to church when I was about eight years old–and I liked church, a lot. As a kid, I was really insecure, and what kept me together was the sort of attention I would elicit when I did well in school or said something really smart. So when I was eight years old and we started going to church and I had to memorize Bible verses–which I was good at–and there were opportunities for me not just to learn things, but to show other people that I had learned things–well, I was in my element. Church was great for me.

Church remained an important part of my life as I grew up. I’m glossing over a lot here, but suffice it to say that my church community was really important to me and I think is a significant part of the person that I am today. I taught Sunday School with my dad, I painted murals in that church that are still there. Me and a few other kids my age were the start of a youth group that eventually grew to almost twenty kids. When I was older, I led that youth group. I was in a youth band where I sang on a regular basis. I went to conferences at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship church every year for about five years. I had a purity necklace and a purity ring. I read all kinds of books by famous Christian authors about being Christian in the Modern World. I was pro-life. I believed God literally created the Earth in seven 24-hour days and hand-created everything–and I argued, hard, against people who disagreed. I believed whole-heartedly that Jesus was going to show me the person I was going to marry, probably in a vision. I was kind of uncomfortable with the whole church-against-gayness thing, but fully considered myself to be in the camp of “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” If the Bible said being gay was wrong, then it was wrong, and those people were going to hell unless I could show them the error of their ways.

The last week of high school–forgive me, at the time, the last week of high school really felt like a big deal–I had the incredible opportunity to go to the Anglican General Synod in 2010. I was the youngest youth delegate to go to Synod that year, by a wide margin. And it was an incredible experience for me. By the time I got back from Synod and was getting ready to go away to school, I really felt that God was calling me to a life of ministry. I mean, how could he not be? I felt the church had given me so much, and that it was my responsibility to give back. I felt, very strongly, that God was calling me ministry; so strongly that I announced it to a congregation full of people while speaking at a retirement party for my then bishop, George Bruce.

Fast forward a little bit. 2013. I was having a bit of a rough patch. I’d come to university in 2010 and, despite church recommendations from my bishop and home parish, despite church hopping for over a year, I just couldn’t find a place that felt like home. I’d joined a church group on campus and had a really bad experience with them, and in addition, like most young adults, I was starting to critically evaluate some of the things I believed for the first time. And it was hard. Thinking about stuff and developing your own opinion is hard. It was especially hard for me, because that summer I was taking a course called Gender in the Media–a women’s studies course that, honestly, I hadn’t even wanted to be in. But the course was challenging me, in ways that would be difficult for anyone, but especially so for someone who came from a small-c conservative background.

My little brother and me–already showing a bit of a predisposition towards more “masculine” stuff.

One of the things that was really getting to me in this course was the concept that gender wasn’t a binary. That maybe there were more options than “boy” or “girl”. I had never really identified with many of the things that are typically associated with “girls”. I was not ever into makeup. I took pride in the fact that I hated girls. I was a tomboy. Most of my friends were guys, and I liked it that way. I wanted to be “one of the guys,” and I hated the invisible social threads that kept me from relating to them the way they did to one another. But I was sensitive. I liked being in touch with my emotions. I liked how women were quick to compliment, to smile, to be overly polite. And though feminism really resonated with me–equal pay, equal rights, strong female characters!–there was always something to that that was a little different with me. But I couldn’t have put it into words before I started taking this course.

And I’ll be honest with you: the first time I thought that maybe I wasn’t a girl my immediate thought was well, no, that’s not right, obviously you’re a girl, God made you a girl, and you can’t be trans because you’re going to be a minister and you don’t have time for this. 

And this conflict was not easy to resolve, for a lot of reasons. It’s really hard to grow up believing something for 20 years and change your mind–and not just your mind, but your entire understanding of who you are. Especially when the responses of nearly everyone around you is negative. Even the conservative Christian objections aside, I knew the stats for transgender people. I didn’t want to be trans. It would be a hell of a lot easier to just stay who I thought I was.

Even after I straightened out that no, this really just wasn’t going go away if I waited a long time, the theology troubled me deeply. When I was younger, I had loved bible stories. When I was older, I almost obsessively clung to them despite flaws I was beginning to see. I had ways of making sense of that infamous first chapter of 2 Timothy. I loved the story of Esther, and refused to admit the truth that that book is really the story of Mordecai. But it was becoming harder and harder to ignore the truth I felt, which was that I just wasn’t represented in this book that was supposed to be a guide for my life.

I think we’ve all felt like this sometimes. As a history student, one of my favourite things about Bible studies or sermons is when people talk about the historical context of this circumstance or the greek origins of this word and what it meant to that society. I find it fascinating. But “fascinating” doesn’t always mean “relatable”, and it’s hard to base your life on something you can’t relate to. And as I came to terms with who I was and became a little more critically certain of what I believed, I began to doubt if there was really a place for me in God’s story.

One of many illustrations that inexplicably makes Philip a white dude living in the Middle East.

So let’s talk about these readings! Let’s talk a little about the historical context here. Shortly before this reading, the disciples are having a pretty rough time. Stephen, who is one of seven deacons that have been chosen by the disciples specifically to take care of widows and children, has just been viciously stoned to death. Saul is persecuting the church–Acts tells us he is literally going from house to house and dragging people away to be imprisoned. Acts 8:1 says “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Things are not really going well.

Philip, another one of these deacons who’s taking care of widows and orphans, gets word from God that God literally wants him to go to this strip of road between Jerusalem and Gaza. Acts even says, “This is a desert road”. How remote does it have to be for the Bible to remind you it’s desert? This is is really the middle of nowhere. So yeah, Philip, I know all your friends are scattered all over the place and loads of them are in prison, but I was thinking you should go out into the middle of the desert. I’m not going to tell you what for! Just go. And Philip, who clearly has much more faith I do, gets up, and he goes.

So Philip sees this eunuch in the desert. Now for those of you who don’t watch Game of Thrones, a eunuch is a castrated male servant. In fact, eunuchs are called “the perfect servant”–they worked as physicians, spiritual advisors, and protectors of women and children in high class families. They have a marginalized sexual identity–they have been castrated against their will so they can serve these royal families without posing a threat to the women or children they are given to protect. Eunuchs, because of their status, are not regular members of society. They would not have been allowed in temple, they weren’t allowed to marry, and they couldn’t have children. They were outside of their society in a lot of ways.

Now, as a trans person, I have to tell you–this story really hits home for me. I have a marginalized sexual identity. There are plenty of places that trans people are not allowed to go. There was a bill in front our Parliament just a few months ago that would have made it illegal for me to use the “wrong” washroom. And as a trans person, I face discrimination on a daily basis. I’m statistically more likely to be unemployed, to lose my job, to be unable to find housing, to be literally murdered, because of this identity that I have. And like the Ethiopian eunuch, I didn’t chose this identity. It’s just who I am .

But back to the Ethiopian eunuch. Eunuchs, because of their sexual identity, were on the outside of society, but close to people in power–eunuchs were highly trusted servants often used as go-betweens and extensions of their masters power. In this story, our Ethiopian eunuch is a court official in charge of the all the treasures of the queen of Ethiopia. So clearly, he’s an incredibly trusted and powerful individual. And what happens to the Ethiopian eunuch in this story? He converts. And I mean, the Bible is full of stories of people converting. The first time I read this story I was like “Well, yeah, of course he converts. This is the Bible we’re talking about.” What did you think he was going to do, open a bakery? But hold on one second. Because the Ethiopian eunuch is actually the first non-Gentile conversion to Christianity. The first non-Jewish convert! So he’s kind of a big deal.

God has given us the story of the Ethiopian eunuch–this marginalized, unpopular, sexual minority figure–who despite his separation from God’s people, has travelled to Jerusalem specifically to worship. He’s not even allowed in Jewish temples, but he goes to see it, and on his way home God calls Philip to be waiting in the desert to meet him and share God’s plan with him–that everyone, not just the Jews, but everyone, even castrated men who can’t marry or have children or be a traditional part of society–God is coming to save them. And not only that, but He’s coming, and his first conversion is one of the most ostracized people it could have been. Then we have that passage in Isaiah–“to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that endures forever.” I can’t tell you what those words mean to me, as someone who is no longer just a son or a daughter.

Is this post getting too heavy? Look! Cats!

I really identity with the Ethiopian eunuch. Because in a lot of superficial ways, he and I have got our stuff together. I’ve got a really good job. I’m privileged to attend university. I have two cats, a nice apartment, enough money to buy a fancy coffee sometimes. Superficially, I’ve got it all together. And the eunuch does too–he’s responsible for everything the queen of Ethiopia has. He’s high-ranking and seems well off. But he’s isolated. He’s not like everyone else.

I am isolated. I am not like everyone else. I am non-binary trans, and I have generalized anxiety disorder that sometimes manifests as depression. I had to quit school for a bit and things are still a little messy. And when I started to struggle with the Bible–when I sat in intern meetings at St. Alban’s and felt like an awful human being, because all my gut responses to everything we were studying was just incredibly antagonistic–St. Alban’s gave me the space to ask questions and not know the answers. When we met on Tuesday nights for Young Adults and we talked about hard, hard things–there were several nights, some of you will know, where I ended up in tears about the tough issues we were talking about–St. Alban’s was always there telling me it was okay to be unsure, it was okay to not know, it was okay to be unhappy and not see God in the immediate. St. Alban’s was, and remains, my Philip, coming out to meet me in the desert. Someday, like Philip, I know you will send me on my way rejoicing. But without this community, I never would have seen that day. I am sure I would’ve given up, and I never would have been blessed to see the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, and see it in a new light.

Thank you for listening, beautiful people. Amen.