Catholic School Leaders Urge Discernment on Marriage Equality Issue

Leaders at two Jesuit-run Catholic schools in Australia have urged discernment over the issue of marriage equality ahead of a non-binding plebiscite set to begin September 12. SBS reported:

“The rectors of Melbourne’s Xavier College and Sydney’s Saint Ignatius’ College, whose alumni include Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and former prime minister Tony Abbott respectively, have written to parents and staff arguing the Catholic Church’s understanding of marriage stretches beyond procreation.”

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Fr. Chris Middleton, SJ

Fr. Chris Middleton, SJ, of Xavier College said young people’s “strong commitment to equality” is “something to respect and admire.” His column in the school’s newsletter appealed for civility and respect as the issue is debated. Of experiences with students, Middleton wrote:

“As one who works in a school and who is charged with witnessing to our faith to the young, it is clear that the debate exposes a real disconnect between the Church’s public opposition to same-sex civil marriage and the attitudes of young people. In my experience, there is almost total unanimity amongst the young in favour of same-sex marriage, and arguments against it have almost no impact on them. . .

“They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value. Any argument against same-sex-marriage must respectfully address these core values, or they will fail a basic test of credibility with our young.”

Middleton said the church should reflect on why this support is so strong among young people, and offered a partial answer that they “know the reality of homophobia, and the destructiveness that it, like racism and sexism, can have in the lives of people, and especially on the young.”

More generally, Middleton said the institutional church “needs to find a voice that is appropriate to the secular sphere” given the debate is over civil and not sacramental marriage. This is a “difficult path” for church leaders, made even harder by the Royal Commission’s damaging findings about the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

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Fr. Ross Jones, SJ

In his own column in the school’s newsletter, St. Ignatius’ Fr. Ross Jones also encouraged his school community to reflect on the plebiscite. He said that when discerning how to vote on a given issue, one must use reason:

“‘Were it not for the school of reason approach, we would still hold that slavery could be justified, or believe that wives were subject to their husbands, contra to what St Paul clearly dictated in the scriptures’. . .

“‘Presumably, same sex couples who make such a commitment to each other in good conscience, do so by reflecting on experience and on what it is to be human, using their God-given reason.'”

So far, church leaders, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and the Australian Bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education, have refused to comment on the rectors’ remarks. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, an alum of St. Ignatius who opposes marriage equality, said of Jones’ remarks, “It sounds like they’re sitting firmly on the fence, which is a pretty painful place to be.”

Both of these elite schools have defended the rectors’ columns, and affirmed their schools’ missions to promote engaged citizens respectful of diversity. Fr. Middleton explained his reason for writing by saying he was motivated by “a concern that the Church needs to take seriously the views of our young people and to explore a way to articulate a response within the context of our Catholic tradition,” as well as his care for students’ well-being.

A statement from St. Ignatius also affirmed the school’s mission to “produce discerning Christians, who can embody the values of Christ in respectful debate and at the same time to be cognisant of the diversity of the community of which they, as thinking Catholics, are a part.”

Catholic schools in Australia have stepped up on LGBT inclusion. Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Trinity Catholic College’s decision to welcome and to accommodate two transgender students. These incidents are good news for a nation where the debate over marriage equality is increasingly harmful, including the posting of neo-Nazi literature targeting LGBT parents.

Australia’s bishops have had a mixed record engaging marriage equality, and there have been prominent Catholic figures speaking on both sides of the issue. Thankfully, Catholic schools are not letting church leaders’ hesitations stymie the schools’ educational missions to form engaged citizens who care about human rights and social justice, including for LGBT people and their families.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 8, 2017

 

 

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Catholic School Welcomes Transgender Students Amid Tensions in Australia

The principal of a Catholic high school has encouraged his school community to welcome two transgender students, a hopeful step not only for Catholic education by for Australian LGBT and Catholic communities as well.

8852592-3x2-700x467Brother John Hilet, FMS, of Trinity Catholic College Lismore in New South Wales, Australia, welcomed two students who came out to him as transgender. The students, who were assigned female at birth, sought to wear male uniforms consistent with their gender.

Though “surprised” to be dealing with gender identity issues, Hilet told ABC News that he was “very quickly moved by their level of trust, faith and willingness to come forward and speak with me.” He added:

“They were moved at a very deep level and at that point the only response I could think of was to treat them with compassion and reach out and do whatever I could to assist. . .

“One of the things I said to the students was that it is a fundamental Catholic teaching that all human beings have an innate dignity that doesn’t derive from anything other than the fact we are human and made in the image and likeness of God. . .When Jesus spoke he never taught us to do anything other than love others, so that was the way I expressed it.”

Brother John Hilet, FMS

The students’ request to wear male uniforms was approved, and the school went a step further by announcing a gender neutral uniform.

These changes were made in consultation with local church officials who had responded positively. Hilet consulted the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission and Bishop Gregory Homeming of Lismore, about whom Hilet said:

“[The bishop’s] response to me was quite clearly that this is an issue of wellbeing for these students. It is an issue of being caring, compassionate and reaching out and doing what we can to assist. I was very happy that confirmed my feelings.”

The principal also wrote a letter to parents, saying it was “essential as a Catholic community we offer our full support to these students.” Students would be expected to respect one another and understand difference, and Hilet explicitly warned against any bullying of the two trans students.

Expecting pushback, the school instead received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents. Hilet explained;

“Invariably the responses have been incredibly positive, thanking the college for its openness and inclusiveness and overwhelmingly supporting the idea of a gender neutral uniform option. . .

“The one that touched me most was a mother who indicated one of her children left the school about three years ago for the same reason and at the time didn’t feel confident in coming to approach me and talk to me about it. And that was sad.”

This incident at Trinity Catholic comes at a difficult moment for LGBT people and their loved ones in Australia. The debate over the country’s non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality has become harmful, including a neo-Nazi poster targeting LGBT parents. Australia’s bishops have had a mixed record engaging marriage equality, and there have been prominent Catholic figures speaking out on both sides of the issue.

Brother Hilet’s decision could therefore have an impact on more than just the two students and the Trinity Catholic community. It can give hope to students in Catholic schools, to youth who may be questioning their gender identity, and to families seeking acceptance for their children. It is as well a bright light for all Australian Catholics, proof once again that our church can live by a more just and compassionate path on LGBT issues when we choose to do so.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 30, 2017

GSAs in Ontario Catholic Schools Grow Students’ Faith, Build ‘Glory of God’

Gay-straight alliances are sometimes controversial in Catholic education. Yet five years after some Canadian legislators required schools to offer them if requested, Catholic schools in the province of Ontario are doing well on LGBT inclusion.

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Ontario’s Catholic educators marching at Pride

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario approved Bill 13, or the Accepting Schools Act, in 2012 against some Catholic leaders’ opposition. The Act requires that all schools funded by the government, which includes Canadian Catholic schools, must offer a student group titled “gay-straight alliance” if it is requested by students.

Those requests happened immediately, according to Danielle Desjardins-Koloff, the principal of Safe Schools, Equity, and Inclusion for the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board. She commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘To be honest, I was very excited, because I do believe that [the alliances] celebrate our human dignity and they recognize that these students have a unique place. . .We had allies where we didn’t know allies existed, where we hadn’t yet defined “ally.”‘”

Though she admitted that working in Catholic education is more difficult than secular settings, in the past five years Desjardins-Koloff has successfully trained every Windsor-Essex Catholic school on LGBT support, and all secondary schools have gay-straight alliances.  Achieving this goal has not meant watering down or sidelining Catholic identity:

“Desjardins-Koloff understands that some members of the community may fear that a gay-straight alliance would ‘devalue the traditional sense of a family,’ but she is quick to point to the convergence of a gay-straight alliance and Catholic ethos. She said she worked to ‘convince the community that these clubs weren’t about sex or sexuality. It was about sexual identity and orientation; it’s about identity and celebrating individuals’ authentic versions of themselves.’

‘Seeing Catholic social justice teaching providing ‘beautiful support,’ Desjardins-Koloff helps students design gay-straight alliance meetings that are ‘centered on Christ-like actions and discipleship.’ She thinks gay-straight alliances are helping to bring students back to a church where they felt they hadn’t belonged before.

“‘The first few times these kids don’t see themselves as part of the Catholic community at all, and they kinda laugh, and they don’t want to join hands and they don’t want to join in, and it’s by choice,’ said Desjardins-Koloff. ‘But by the end of the semester or even some by a month, we are praying together. Our hands are held and we’re in a circle and they feel that energy. They feel every bit a part of that community.'”

These efforts and similar ones throughout Ontario are bearing fruit beyond school walls. Catholic students have begun collaborating between schools and helping support the Catholic Student Leadership Team’s annual inclusivity conference, which now addresses LGBT issues. Students and staff in the Windsor-Essex district have also begun partnerships with secular LGBT groups in the community

Even with these many successes, there are still several aspects of LGBT supports in Ontario’s Catholic systems that are being worked out. Arlene Davis, vice principal at St. Anne’s Catholic School, said she has had several conversations with parents about the school’s gay-straight alliance which she advises:

“Our religious background is something that we respect, but at the same time, it is conservative, and we want to respect that and we want to help these kids along so that they can definitely go along and feel like they’re accomplishing things,’ said Davis.

“Having set up a booth for the gay-straight alliance group at St. Anne’s parent-teacher interview nights, Butler noticed that some parents seemed pleased to see it, but others she watched direct their children to avoid the club.”

But even with these obstacles, and several others you can read about here, Ontario educators have remained supportive. Kevin Welbes Godin of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association wrote for Bondings 2.0 about how Catholic teachers have led the way on LGBT inclusion. This support has included marching as a contingent in WorldPride and other Pride celebrations. Davis explained part of her own reasoning for staying involved:

“‘As a parent first, to see kids that just feel so free and so able to just express themselves and enjoy. And not be judged. . .like, this is who I am, and I’m cool with it. . .I think there still is that extra thing, when you’re on a team. It makes you feel a little bit more special, a little bit more heard, a little bit more accepted. . .”

In Davis’ comment, I hear echoes of St. Irenaeus’ words, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Five years on, I am thankful for Bill 13 and the ways it has made the glory of God that much more visible in our world through the flourishing of LGBT students and their educators.

To watch a video about St. Anne’s Catholic School in Windsor-Essex, Ontario, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 15, 2017

 

Gay Teacher Harassed by Students Fired by Jesuit High School

A Catholic high school in Chicago has fired a gay teacher after students outed and harassed him for over a year.

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Matt Tedeschi

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit institution. Having taught for four years, he was up for tenure next year. But trouble began in February 2016 when a student discovered his profile on an online dating website. DNA Info reported:

“After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus.

” ‘He “outed” me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,’ Tedeschi said. ‘He wanted to embarrass me.’ “

Tedeschi said he never expected students to find him on the website, which is for people age eighteen and older and which is used by other staff at St. Ignatius. He told DNA Info, “Everyone should have the right to a private life.”

Students continued to harass Tedeschi for over a year. One student tweeted against him sixteen times. The tweets include one that said, “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you,” a reference to the screenshots of the teacher’s dating profile, one of which was included in the tweet. All of this created what Tedeschi described as “a horrible environment,” especially given the aforementioned tweet which he considers “public blackmail.”

Unfortunately, school administrators offered little support for Tedeschi. He informed them multiple times about students finding his dating profile and about their continued harassment. Just one student received two detentions for tweeting against Tedeschi. Principal Brianna Latko did little to stop what Tedeschi called a “culture of harassment.” He explained:

” ‘[School officials] were just watching it play out. . .I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.’ “

This March, Tedeschi was informed that St. Ignatius would not be renewing his contract for the 2017-2018 school year. According to DNA Info:

“The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said.

“Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.”

Administrators will not comment on the firing or surrounding events. Spokesperson Ryan Bergin said confidentiality precluded any comment, but that Tedeschi was “treated fairly” and that school officials “wish him all the best.”

Though his sexual orientation was not explicitly referenced when he was fired, Tedeschi said the firing is really about him being forcibly outed by students as a gay man, his decision to seek an end to the harassment, and the school’s attempt to cover up an embarrassing incident. A colleague agreed that it was not Matt being gay which was the problem, but that his public outing violated the “hush-hush” attitude towards gay faculty and students and was “creating too much trouble.”

Tedeschi has released an open letter (see end of linked article) to the school community, in which he expressed gratitude for the school community. He is publicly telling his story of firing because “only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself.” He is now considering his legal options.

This firing is a tremendous loss. Students have lost a teacher who by all accounts was gifted and enthusiastic. Tedeschi was not supported by the administration against harrassment. St. Ignatius administrators’ decision to fire him is troubling for one more reason. It sends the message to offending students and the wider community that homophobia is implicitly acceptable because, in this case, it was the victim who was punished, not the harassers.

 —Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2017

 

Why Catholic High Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Last month, a St. Louis, MO, Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, made news when it turned down a student request to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Questions arose about how Catholic high schools can best serve their LGBTQ+ students while retaining their Catholic identity. 

To aid Nerinx Hall and all other Catholic schools when deciding whether to start an LGBTQ+ student group, Bondings 2.0 has compiled data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ high school students and the proven impact LGBTQ+ student groups have on high school campus climates. 

Educational Consequences of Unsafe Environments

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary spelled out the problems students face

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250“A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” Additionally, the GLSEN document said that unsafe school environments also lead students to drop out of school early, “42.5% of LGBTQ+ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.” 

LGBTQ+ students who experienced discrimination were “more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression,” according to the GLSEN report. 

“We see that LGBT youth are being deprived of an equal education based on these hostile school climates,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN Research Director.

School climate directly impacts how well students learn and socialize. Heightened stressors like bullying, discrimination, victimization, and lacking a sense of community are proven to make LGBTQ+ students more likely to have negative educational and developmental outcomes. LGBTQ+ student groups provide a space for students to create a sense of community and support so they can better perform as students as they develop into adulthood. 

Do LGBTQ+ student groups work? The data says, “Yes!” 

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, data from as early as 1998 shows that LGBTQ+ students attending schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “were less likely to report being victimized, skipping school because of fear of victimization, or attempting suicide.” The same report showed that LGBTQ+ student groups are “significantly protective” in decreasing suicidal ideation and attempts by LGB high school students. 

More recent data in GLSEN “Safe Space Kit” 2016 and GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey shows students who did have an LGBTQ+ student group were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and more accepting peers, were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns than LGBTQ+ students in schools without an LGBTQ+ student group. 

LGBTQ+ student groups have even been found to benefit school climates on issues beyond sexuality and gender identity. According to the GLSEN “Teasing to Torment” 2015 document, even non-LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “experience less victimization based on race/ethnicity and based on appearance than students without a GSA” and reported “greater feelings of safety for the general student body.” 

Catholic Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Some Catholic educators and administrators are worried that granting students an LGBTQ+ student group would negatively impact the Catholic identity of the school, but this fear is by no means an excuse to deny students what they need: an LGBTQ+ student group. 

rolingAccording to a GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, barring students from forming or promoting an LGBTQ+ student group clearly sends “the message that LGBT topics, and in some cases, even LGBTQ+ people, are not appropriate for extracurricular activities.” GLSEN claimed that by denying or hindering LGBTQ+ student groups, the school administration marks “official school activities distinctly as non-LGBT” and that such discrimination prevents “LGBTQ+ students from participating in the school community as fully and completely as other students.”

In Pope Francis’ directive for Catholic education, listed on the Catholic education web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he calls us to care for the needs of all students, which, of course, means LGBTQ+ students, too: 

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.” 

Catholic school administrators and educators cannot ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ students as they raise themselves to the promise found in their own selves. Denying them the space to grow and heal does not rise to their promise, it denies that their promise exists. 

So, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Catholic school administrators should ask themselves: “Can we rise to the promise found in your LGBTQ+ students and guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be?” 

Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017


Would you like to start an LGBTQ+ student group at your school? The GSA Network has resources available here. GLSEN also has resources on how to start an LGBTQ+ student group and general resources for LGBTQ+ student groups

Come to New Ways Ministry’s symposium this April for our focus session “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions.” Find more information on our symposium website.

Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions

Don’t Forget! Spirit Day is THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016!

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016spiritdayatcatholicschool_facebook

What is Spirit Day?

It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click here for more info from GLAAD.

When is it? 

THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.

What happens? What can I do?

Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school! 

What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?

If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!

What about social media? What should I post?

Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.

Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!

Share our social media banner (download here).

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Post our social media image (download here). 

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Follow @NewWaysMinistry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.

Important!

We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!

Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?

Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).

Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.

On Prom Dates as Pastoral Care: A Letter to My High School

img_7348Note: Bondings 2.0 writer Bob Shine is a 2008 graduate of Saint John’s High School, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. This open letter is based on correspondence he sent to several school administrators this spring.

Dear Saint John’s Administration,

Earlier this spring, junior Matthew Barrett asked Saint John’s High School to allow same-gender prom dates. His petition garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, and the effort was widely supported in my conversations with fellow alumni. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when no positive response appeared from school administrators.

It was at Saint John’s that I came to know firsthand the deep harm caused when students are forced to hide and mitigate their authentic selves. These were the experiences of my best friends. Organizing in college and working in LGBT ministry since then has only affirmed this truth. And it has convinced me that, overwhelmingly, the church’s pastoral care for, and inclusion of, LGBTQ people is tragically deficient, despite magisterial statements of welcome and acceptance. Rates of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among LGBTQ youth remain sinfully high due to realities such as 84% of LGBTQ youth reporting harassment and 90% hearing prejudiced comments at school, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN).

Acknowledging these realities, Catholic education should employ every means available to let LGBTQ students know they are good, as they are created in God’s image, and they can expect full inclusion as members of the community. Many of my close friends from Saint John’s have come out since we graduated in 2008. I cannot speak to the school’s environment today, but I know from their experiences that the high school years can be a traumatizing experience for gay, bisexual, and questioning students, even in schools offering the highest quality education.

Allowing same-gender prom dates would contribute positively to creating a safer space at Saint John’s, and it would also advance the school’s mission “to bring Christ to life in young men.” There is an evangelical aspect to becoming more inclusive, which invites your students to know the church we love as a place of mercy and of inclusion, rather than hostility and exclusion. These ideas are very much in keeping with the  mission of the Xaverian Brothers who sponsor the school.

For your consideration as you weigh this request from students, I highlight two instances where Catholic education allowed same-gender prom dates. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, approved such a policy this past January, saying “These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved.” McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York approved same-gender dates in 2013. Fr. Edward Salmon, the president, cited Pope Francis when explaining his decision and wrote:

“[Gay people] as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, [brotherhood] which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of sexual involvement.”

Allowing same-gender prom dates and recognizing the Gay-Straight Alliance students have organized for St. John’s would be big steps towards greater pastoral care. It may not seem much, but in this instance welcoming a diversity of prom dates could be considered pastoral care if it actively helps students experience further the inclusion, acceptance, and love that God offers us. I pray that you may hear the voices of your students with God’s ears and respond as Christ would with mercy and with understanding.

Sincerely,

Bob Shine

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For those interested in the betterment of life for LGBT students in Catholic education, the Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary’s will be hosting a fundraiser for LGBT student scholarships in California. It will be Sunday, June 26, 12:00pm to 3:00pm in Malibu, CA. For more information and to register (requested before June 17th), please visit www.galandsmc.org

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry