ALL ARE WELCOME: Parish Programs Make Sure LGBT People Have a Place at the Table

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Though we report and comment a lot on this blog about bishops and the Vatican and politics and theology, for the vast majority of Catholics the deepest experience of “church” is not at the hierarchical level, but about what happens in their local communities and their day to day lives.  That’s why parish life is so important–and so important that it be a community life where LGBT people and their parents feel welcome and affirmed.  Although there are no statistics about it, I think more people decide whether to stay in or to leave the Church based on what their local pastor or fellow parishioners say to them than anything that is said by the pope or the bishops.

News reports recently from different parts of the country gave a close-up view of the work that several parishes are doing to make sure that LGBT people and family members know they have a place at the table.

The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported on a vibrant program that began ten years ago at Good Shepherd parish, Menomonee Falls, and has since expanded to at least three more nearby parishes.   “Gay and Straight in Christ” was founded by Ann Castiglione, a parishioner whose godson is gay, and since that time she has planted seeds for programs at St. Mary parish, Hales Corners, St. Joseph parish, Grafton, and Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Milwaukee.

The programs at each parish vary, but all share the common threads of prayer, support, sharing stories, and discussing topics that are relevant to LGBT people, such as raising a family as a same-gender couple.  The effectiveness of these programs is evidenced by the testimony of participants and observers. For example, the newspaper article reported:

“John still feels welcome in the church. That’s due in part to his parish priest, but also to a cadre of faithful who gather regularly to pray and explore what it means to be part of the body of Christ, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. . . .

” ‘The Gay and Straight in Christ ministry has been a huge help for me,’ said John, who asked to be identified only by his first name in deference to his wife, who has struggled with the revelation that he is gay. ‘They make you feel that you can still be part of the church and that there are people who are supportive, even if the hierarchy and individual people aren’t.’ “

A local theological expert also praised this type of pastoral program:

“These kinds of ministries are consistent with church teachings on human dignity and conscience, and efforts by Pope Francis to balance church doctrine with mercy and compassion for the ‘messiness of people’s lives,’ said the Rev. Bryan Massingale, who teaches moral theology at Marquette University.

” ‘They are witnessing to the totality of our Catholic teaching, not just teachings on sexual acts … but on the dignity of the person who is loved by Christ regardless of their behavior.’ “

The tension between church teaching on sexual abstinence vs. the individual’s conscience is certainly present in such ministries, but , as Deacon Sandy Sites of  Good Shepherd stated:

“What we are saying is that you are welcome here. Your story is between you and your confessor and God. I don’t care who you are. When it comes to the teachings of Christ, it’s not about the sin, it’s about the person.”

In Baltimore, Maryland, St. Matthew parish has been leading the way in that archdiocese by proclaiming a welcome to LGBT people through their LEAD ministry (LGBT 
Educating and Affirming Diversity), which recently hosted a panel of LGBT people and parents telling their stories so that the wider parish community could learn more about them.  The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, reported on the event:

“About 50 people attended the two-hour event, which included a question-and-answer session. Attendees asked for advice on personal situations, including navigating conversations with family members.
“ ‘People find themselves in a confusing place because they have a faith that allows them to be strong in the face of adversity, but they sometimes have a church that’s been challenging them about how they should see their family members who are gay,’ said Father [Joseph] Muth [pastor] in an interview after the event.”
Fr.  Muth also emphasized the healing and reconciling role that panel presentations of personal testimonies can have:
“I think through that storytelling, people begin to see how hurt people have been and how they’ve turned away from the church. With the church’s whole emphasis on this new evangelization, this is a real opportunity to reverse the attitude – to have a more welcoming, compassionate, listening attitude, to tell people they can be included.”
The panel took place while the Synod on Marriage and Family was taking place in Rome, but Fr.  Muth noted that pastoral outreach is not dependent on whether or not the Church changes its teaching on gay and lesbian relationships.  He stated:
“The church teaching may or may not change at some point down the road – that’s not something I can do anything about – but the initial step to people who have felt rejected and put aside for many years is to create an atmosphere of welcome.”
These ministry examples from Wisconsin and Maryland are great models for the increasing number of parishes across the country who are opening their doors to LGBT people. You can find such parishes by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.   You can read more about the LGBT-friendly parish movement by reading the blog posts in Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series by clicking here.
If you want information on how your parish can start an LGBT ministry program or develop an existing one, contact New Ways Ministry by email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, or by phone, 301-277-5674.  We’ve helped scores of parishes expand their outreach in ways that suit their particular situations.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

6 Responses to ALL ARE WELCOME: Parish Programs Make Sure LGBT People Have a Place at the Table

  1. pjnugent says:

    Congratulations and thanks to St. Matthew and the Wisconsin parishes for being truly Catholic and welcoming. They certainly are hearing and acting on Jesus words in yesterday’s gospel, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Two parishes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are making first efforts in being welcoming by together offering a once-monthly support group for parents, family and friends of LGBTQ Catholics.

  2. Kathleen Fallon says:

    About four months ago, I reached out to my parish priest to ask if there was a program that offers support for parents of gay sons and daughters. Since our pastor was out of town at the time for a much needed vacation, I had the opportunity to speak personally and openly with a very kind priest in our parish. I was aware of PFLAG at the time, but hesitated to go that route because I am a Catholic. I was seeking a Christian network if not a Catholic network that speaks to the struggles we as families encounter by way of prejudice against our gay children and our struggles to remain close to our church. Anyway, I was sent to meet with Fr. Mike in charge of a local chapter of Courage 30 minutes into town. If you haven’t heard of Courage, it is the Catholic answer for any non -heterosexual person. It calls you to chastity and prayer and and teaches that all sexual behavior outside of marriage is sinful. Dead end for me. My son is already in a loving same gender committed relationship. He and his partner just got a home together. If I have any problem, it’s that they are not married, not that they are gay! Anyway, I told the courage priest this wasn’t what I was looking for and not what I felt is needed for most gay catholics. Gay Catholics are already coming to terms as a community with their existence and if they can’t find a home in the universal Catholic Church, they will go elsewhere. God calls all of us. Going back to my parish home to report the discouraging news about Courage, I sent Father Tom an email as I told him I would, then received a phone message from our pastor to meet with the spiritual director, which I did. Lovely woman, who contacted the diocese, called other parishes with me, the bottom line was, there is nothing in the Church for me and I was not permitted to start a support group for parents because we can’t do anything against the church teachings. I guessed that we as catholics are not allowed to share our loving embrace of our gay children. I have not been to Mass since………I did however, start to attend PFLAG meetings in Houston and I just joined Dignity. Dignity supporters meet for mass once a month and I will go with them. I read everything I can get my hands on. I’m going to see Fr. Tony Flannery in San Antonio next week and my son is going to meet me there! Fr. Flannery is trying to help, but I think the Vatican wants to push him out too.
    Peace to all of you,
    Kathleen

    • Kathleen

      So sorry to hear about your bad experiences. Thank you for having the courage and fortitude to speak your truth and to search for a welcoming community. Though you did not get the answer you want, I am sure that what you did will help others in the future.

  3. Brian Kneeland says:

    Sadly, it is only one parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore! For many of us it has meant not getting jobs or losing jobs because of how God created us. And, note that our archbishop has done nothing to be welcoming but only condemning! Many here (in this conservative archdiocese) follow the lead of the chief shepherd of the diocese. Sadly, that means condemnation. More voices must be heard!

  4. All I know is to stay close to Jesus Brian. It’s difficult to stay close to the Church though isn’t it? It seems our church has the message of Jesus so wrong and is perpetuating prejudice and discrimination in our world which is bad enough, but in God’s name, even worse. We are called to find Christ in each other. Some of the bishops are making it tough.

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