Conference 2016: “Feathers on the Breath of God”

The conference theme this year, under the title “Feathers on the Breath of God” (from a phrase used by Julian of Norwich) will be looking at the complexities of personhood, sexuality and gender.


‘A Feather on the Breath of God’. Hildegard of Bingen’s powerful metaphor of a lightness of being, as one is thrust forward in life, almost against one’s will, and yet with a terrific purpose and power, is one that many LGBTQI Christians will recognise. In the case of trans people, for example, even the terminology is still evolving as folk are borne along by unseen currents of understanding and integration.

In their contribution to the 2016 Quest Conference Tina and Chris hope to examine this dynamic work of the Spirit in our times in their keynote addresses and by offering the Sibyls’ workshop, ‘Gender, Sexuality and Spirituality: exploring the interplay.’

Keynote address – Tina Beardsley

“My Body was Made for the Love of God” (Ernesto Cardenal): transgender Christians and the Body of Christ.

Tina’s talk will focus on the Sibyls, the UK Christian spirituality group for trans people and their supporters, which was founded by Jay Walmsley in 1996. Topics will include the origins of the Sibyls; why it was needed twenty years ago; how members’ needs have changed with the greater acceptance of trans people by society and, to an extent, the churches; and its enduring and developing patterns of prayer and community. The talk will also examine the genesis of the Sibyls’ book, *This is my body: hearing the theology of transgender Christians* which Tina has co-edited with Michelle O’Brien, and is due out in May 2016, and its contribution to transgender theology. First conceived as long ago as 2000, one of its consistent themes is the observation that the process of discussion about gender and sexual minorities within the Church, has tended to exclude LGBTI people themselves. It thus reflects many people’s perceptions of how the Church treats LGBTI people, despite the call for discussion. The question is frequently posed, how can there be such a debate if the subjects of the debate are not allowed to participate? The Sibyls’ book, along with the Sibyls as an organisation and the Sibyls’ Workshop, form an important contribution to such a participative Church debate with LGBTI people, rather than a debate about them, a discussion that must involve the wider Church community in the future.

Keynote address – Chris Dowd

The new Normal- how sexual minorities are going mainstream.

This session looks at how the LGBT community is moving into the mainstream. This workshop explores how this will change the pastoral needs of LGBT folk within the Church and our identity as outsiders within it.

The Sibyls’ workshop:

‘Gender, Sexuality and Spirituality: exploring the interplay.’ 

The Sibyls’ workshop was developed for an LGBT Christian conference in 2007 and has been held in many settings ever since, including the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, the LGBT Health Summit, the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians, and is now part of the regular teaching on the York Spiritual Directors course. Although it developed from the trans, queer and intersex insights of its originators, Michelle O’Brien and Tina, it has been well-received by gay and straight participants, and nowadays is usually led jointly by a trans person and a gay or lesbian person. The workshop is not about other people – it is about you: your gender, your sexuality and your spirituality – and in this conference we will be reflecting on how we have become the people we are in the light of the insight that we are feathers on the breath of God.

*Optional Workshop on Saturday afternoon: ‘Move like a man, walk like a woman – gender in performance’* – When the Sibyls’ workshop is offered at weekend conferences Tina also leads this optional movement workshop.

Claire Jenkin’s presentation

Blessings and beatings: a tale of two transsexual women and their encounter with the Christian Church. 

Changing sex/gender has long been an ambivalent issue for the church. I will argue in a PowerPoint presentation that this is because the church has a muddled view of sex/gender embodiment.  I will illustrate this confusion by discussing the recent case, during 2015, of the Catholic Church’s negative handling a Spanish transsexual man.  I will follow this introductory discussion by drawing on the data obtained in my doctoral research completed in 2013.  I will consider understanding of the variety of patterns of intimate relationships which characterise contemporary family life and how these are contrasted with traditional understandings of the family.  I will argue that transsexual people mess up all these understandings when they decide to transition and change sex/gender.  In part of the research used for this presentation I will study the stories told by the two transsexual women and one of their spouses. I will discuss what was told about acceptance by family members of one woman’s transsexual transition and how the church was involved in both helping and hindering the changes undertaken by the other women.  I will conclude by reflecting on the implications of the church’s adherence to naturalistic understandings of sex/gender and family life arguing that this is inappropriate for merciful pastoral care in the twenty first century.


The venue will once again be the University of Hull Scarborough Campuswhere we were for 2014 – and which feedback forms showed was one of the most enjoyable venues we’ve been to yet.

  • It is in pleasant surroundings and is approximately 30 minutes gentle walk (1½ miles) from the town centre.
  • The No 7 bus service is regular (every 15 minutes) and is a 6 minute journey.



Dates are Friday 22nd July – Sunday 24th July 2016. (arrive approx 4pm / depart approx 3.30pm)



Our industrious conference organisers, Hazel and Sandy, have once again kept the cost to just £205. For that, you get a comfortable en-suite room, all meals, teas, chair’s drinks reception, gala dinner with wine, opportunities for local excursions, stimulating brain food, spiritual nourishment – and the chance to meet up once again with old friends, or to make new ones: great value!


Booking forms are here:

Booking form (Word)

Booking form (electronic)



The speakers will be Rev Dr Christina (Tina) Beardsley and Chris Dowd.

Christina Beardsley , a Church of England priest, has been in pastoral ministry for thirty-seven years, twenty-two in parishes and fifteen in healthcare chaplaincy – the last eight as Head of Multi-faith Chaplaincy at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. Co-founder, with Michelle O’Brien, of the Sibyls’ ‘Gender, sexuality and spirituality’ workshop, Tina was a member of the Sibyls Committee for ten years, and the first Changing Attitude, England Trustee for transgender people from 2007-2014. She was Co-Chair of the LGBT Anglican Coalition (2012-2013) and Female Co-Convenor of the Clergy Consultation (2007-2010). Educated at the universities of Sussex, Cambridge and Leeds, Tina has published several articles on transgender people and faith, and is co-editor (with Michelle) of *This is My Body: Hearing the theology of transgender Christians* which is due to be published by Darton, Longman & Todd in May 2016. It can be pre-ordered at the discount price of £10 on the Sibyls website here  and is also advertised on the DLT website here. Also see:

Rev Dr Chris Dowd Rev Dr Chris Dowd is a United Reformed Minister working in Hull. He finished his doctorate in 2015 called Transfaith- reflections on faith from the margins and is currently working on a publishing proposal on a pastoral handbook for those working pastorally with transfolk. He is also a contributor to ‘This is my Body’. He lives with his partner Will with a pack of disobedient hounds and when he is not being serious likes reading trashy novels and listening to the sort of music 13 year old girls love…..

Dr. Claire Jenkins

Claire Jenkins is a transsexual woman and convert to the Catholic Church. She was married with 4 children until she transitioned from male to female at 50 years of age. In 2013 she was awarded a PhD from the University of Sheffield for her research into the effect of transitioning on the family members of transsexual people. She promoted transgender equality in the trade union movement as vice chair of the NUT LGBT advisory group for nearly 20 years, and is a former Director of Relate.  Claire also has 22 years secondary school teaching experience, 12 of which were as the deputy headteacher in a socially disadvantaged Midlands ex-mining town.