The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.
Parishes that want to welcome LGBT people into their communities often think of their work as “outreach.” They consider that to bring LGBT people to their communities, they need to go outside their doors and offer a welcoming hand to the unchurched or alienated.
That’s a good strategy, but it shouldn’t be a parish’s only strategy. In addition to looking outside their community, a parish that wants to welcome LGBT people should also look inside itself for LGBT members.
The assumption that LGBT people are always outside the church is not totally accurate. While it is true that many LGBT folks have experienced some sort of alienation from insitutional religion, many others have not left the Catholic community and are still active members of parishes. Parish leaders and pastoral ministers may not be aware that these parishioners are LGBT because the parishioners have decided not to make their identities known, some times out of fear that they will be ostracized.
That’s why in addition to outreach, parishes can also benefit from doing some “in-reach.” In addition to welcoming outsiders, basically evangelical work, parishes can benefit from looking inwards to see why the LGBT people in their communities may not feel comfortable revealing their identities.
More and more LGBT people are finding it easier to be “out” in their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, but some times, unfortunately, they do not feel comfortable being open about their identities in their faith communities. They may feel they will be rejected outright or be denied leadership and ministry roles in the parish.
There are many ways that parishes that want to welcome LGBT people can send messages to those members of their communities that do not yet feel comfortable “coming out” :
1) Include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their concerns in the prayers of the faithful.
2) Mention examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in homilies to illustrate Gospel lessons, values, and virtues.
3) Make sure your parish mission or welcome statement includes a specific mention of lesbian,gay,bisexual, transgender people.
4) Host events specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, their family members, and supporters.
5) Choose a special Sunday to celebrate the gifts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people bring to the faith community.
6) Adopt a non-discrimination policy for parish employment and volunteer opportunities.
7) Make sure that visibly out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people have leadership roles in the community.
What has your parish done to let LGBT folks in your parish know that it would be safe and comfortable for them to “come out” in your community. Post your suggestions and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry