ALL ARE WELCOME: Say the Words

A major focus of New Ways Ministry’s work has always been to help Catholic institutions become more gay-friendly.  For many years, we have consulted with parishes, campuses, vowed religious communities, retreat centers to help them find ways to become more welcoming of LGBT people and their families.   One program we sponsor is the Next Steps weekend retreat/workshop to help people develop a plan of action for themselves and their faith communities in regard to pro-LGBT activities and messages.

Today we are starting an occasional series on this blog called “All Are Welcome.”  We hope to offer some reflections and suggestions for how faith communities can initiate a welcome to LGBT people or how to develop the welcome they may have already begun.   Remember, too, that this blog is social media: the communication works both ways! So in addition to reading the information that we offer, we hope that you will offer your own suggestions, reflections, and experiences, too.

The suggestion for today is “say the words.”  The words to say are “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender.”  How powerful a message is sent when any or all of these words is said in a Catholic setting.  When you speak the words, you are validating people’s reality.   In a radio interview once, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, said that oppression against lesbian/gay people ran the gamut from “silence to violence.”  With this pithy saying, he illustrated the fact that sometimes “silence” can be as harmful as “violence.”  In other words, silence is a form of violence.

Even up to a decade ago, it may have been uncommon to hear these words spoken in general conversation.  Now they are almost household words.  NOT to say them in church settings is a glaring omission.

When do you use them?  When they would come up naturally!  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Use them in the prayers of the faithful, in sermons, in parish bulletins and other publications. Use them in discussions of family.

2.  Use them in discussions of social justice.

3.  Use them in religious education and sacramental preparation.

4. Use them in programs on sexuality.

5.  Use them in youth ministry programs.

6.  Use them in mission statements, non-discrimination policies, and statements of welcome.

7.  Use them in June, which is when many cities and towns celebrate LGBT Pride events.

8. Use them around October 11th, which is National Coming Out Day.

9.  Use them on Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, to describe the variety of parents that exist in your parish.

10. Use them in presentations on diversity and multiculturalism.

In Always Our Children, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on ministry to families with lesbian/gay members, offers the following recommendation to pastoral ministers:

“When speaking publicly, use the words ‘homosexual,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘lesbian’ in honest and accurate ways.”

The first edition of Always Our Children, before it was edited by the Vatican, had a different wording for this recommendation:

“Use the words ‘homosexual,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘lesbian’ in honest and accurate ways, especially from the pulpit. In various and subtle ways you can give people ‘permission’ to talk about homosexual issues among themselves and let them know that you’re also willing to talk with them.”

Though the Vatican amended that language, they could not amend the human reality that it reflects:  when people hear someone speak of their reality, they not only feel more welcome, but they also hear an invitation to continue the conversation on this topic.

Simply speaking these words may not seem like a major step, yet its effect can be very profound.  In doing so, you are welcoming people, letting them know that you are someone that is interested in them, and you are helping so many others in your parish become more comfortable with these words.

What have been your experiences with saying these words in a welcoming way in your faith community?  What are some other ways that those words can be spoken to help people know that “all are welcome”?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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23 Responses to ALL ARE WELCOME: Say the Words

  1. Marie-Louise Thurton says:

    First, I’d like to say this is a great post. It can feel very overwhelming to start ministry to the lgbtq community, but it’s amazing how simple steps like these ones transform a space.

    A fellow parishoner added a prayer for LGBTQ youth after the tragic suicide of Jamie Hubley, a Canadian Catholic teenager to our popcorn style Prayers of the Faithful.

    I was surprised that other people also started putting forth their prayers for the lgbtq community – and prayed with deep conviction/emotion.

    It was a very moving experience to discover I was affirmed by my community in this way, and started a fruitful dialogue with those who had misconceptions.

  2. Sr. John Michele says:

    I’m a IHM Sister from Scranton, Pa. and just wrote an article for our Congregation publication, that goes out to thousands of people, on my own experience of starting my ministry to the GLBTQ population on a Catholic campus. It has been well received to the best of my knowledge. We have come a long way.
    It is available at

    http://www.sistersofihm.org/dotAsset/f62649ca-4d27-40e0-8687-63be114eabd0.pdf

    It is on page 10 of the Fall 2011 issue.

  3. Casey Lopata says:

    I would add that HOW the words are used can also make a difference.

    Of course, “gay” or “lesbian” should be used in positive, or at least, neutral, ways. But I suggest that they should generally be used as adjectives, not nouns; i.e., “gay person” “lesbian woman” etc, not “gays” or “lesbians.”

    This difference may seem subtle. But it reinforces the fact that we’re talking about real live persons, with faces and names, not an abstract category that, in some people, brings forth the most offensive images anti-gay groups use to visually denigrate gay and lesbian persons.

    I have to believe that gay people hearing themselves identified as “gay persons’ rather than as “gays” has to feel more welcoming.

  4. Thanks, all, for your comments.

    Marie-Louise, your story is very moving, and shows how simply speaking the words gives permission for others to pour out their hearts.

    Sr. John Michele, your story and your ministry are inspirational! I know from first-hand experience about the good work that you are doing.

    Casey, thanks for the helpful addendum. It IS so much more welcoming to be thought of as a noun than as an adjective.

    • Joe McCarty and Tony Mayard says:

      Yes, it would be so much more positive and affirming if these common words could be heard in Church. Our pastor has repeatedly spoken from the pulpit of “those who arrogantly are trying to change the definition of marriage” that has been “ordained by God”.

      Joe & Tony
      Lafayette, LA

  5. Vern Smith says:

    An interesting post, and it reminds me of something I kept telling myself as I went thru my own coming out process, especially in the early years. As it was difficult for some members of my family and social circle at that time, they just didn’t want to talk about or bring up anything in conversation about the existence of gay people in general, let alone my own status. So, I kept telling myself, “Make the purple elephant more visible.” I made a conscious effort to include my partner’s name, identifying him as my partner, in conversations about my life. We made sure we were together at certain gatherings, and that it was clear who we were in relationship to each other. In time, it became “normal” for my family and friends. In some ways, time and practice is all that is needed for some folks to get used to things, and that is badly needed in the church setting. So, yes, use the g-word, and make that purple elephant in the pews more visible.

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    There is nothing worse than a “gay-friendly” Catholic parish that is scared to use “those words.”

    Moral cowardice is not a pleasant thing to experience.

  7. Francis DeBernardo says:

    Jimmy Mac, I’m so sorry to hear that you had a bad experience in what you thought would be a gay-friendly parish. If you contact me offline by email, director@NewWaysMinistry.org, and let me know the area in which you live, perhaps we can connect you with a truly gay-friendly parish or Catholic support system near you.
    –Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

  8. Holy Wisdom – Inclusive Catholic Community Olympia, Washington

    Litany of Welcome
    (recited at the beginning of each Mass.)

    We welcome disenfranchised and voiceless people.
    We welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and
    transgendered people.
    We welcome those who live with disabilities.
    We welcome those whom we don’t understand.

    We welcome those who are homeless.
    We welcome those who have been abused.
    We welcome immigrants and those who are undocumented.
    We welcome those who have been silenced or excommunicated by the Church.

    We welcome Catholics who are looking for a place to practice their faith.
    We welcome those who are divorced.
    We welcome women, married priests and others who have been excluded from Church ministry.
    We welcome non-believers and people of other faiths.

    This Litany of Welcome reflects the desire of Holy Wisdom Inclusive Catholic Community to welcome all people. We pray this Litany at the beginning of our liturgies.

    Adapted from a Litany written by a friend of the community. Used with permission.

  9. janice says:

    Well done…you may be interested in knowing that today’s (12-19-11) Chicago Tribune included a wonderful exploration on transgenders…it was very educational, gay-friendly and took on the controversial issue of transgenders as parents…2 full pages!

  10. BEAUTIFUL POST, Thank you.

  11. [...] another earlier post, we mentioned that the first step for parishes who want to welcome LGBT people  is to use the [...]

  12. [...] Today I went to mass (of course). My parish community proves to be more wonderful each day. Today our priest put offered prayers of the faithful to end all discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation. It means a lot to hear those words. I hope you are attending an affirming parish too. [...]

  13. [...] ALL ARE WELCOME: Say the Words (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) [...]

  14. [...] of LGBT people and issues.  This is the third installment.  The first one can be accessed here; the second one can be accessed [...]

  15. [...] ALL ARE WELCOME: Say the Words (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) [...]

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