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