The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people.
Two parish events in recent months reveal the ways in which Catholics are expanding LGBT welcome and propelling conversations about family in the Catholic Church.
The first example comes from the Life Questions group at St. Edward Church in Racine, Wisconsin, which held two events last November, according to The Journal Times, dealing first with marriage and second with pastoral care of LGBT people.
In the first session, attorney Mark Hinkston explained the differences between civil and sacramental marriage. Given marriage equality’s inevitability in civil law and the Catholic bishops’ opposition, he asked participants:
” ‘Can there be a middle ground?…It will be interesting to see how the practical situation plays out and to what extent the church will take notice.’ “
In the second session, Fr. Allen Bratkowski, the pastor, and Deacon Keith Hansen, who has experience in LGBT ministry, focused on welcoming lesbian and gay people within the church. Hansen reiterated the discomfort that LGBT people feel, even while possessing a “deep faith” and said parishes need to “be more welcoming than we are.” He continued:
” ‘We struggle in our church to accept all of our neighbors, as Jesus taught us to love…God loves all of his creations unconditionally and we are called to do the same.
” ‘We need to let [gay people] know “We need you to be our ushers and to serve on our parish councils”…We need to say “You are part of God’s church, please join us.” ‘ “
Fr. Bratkowski responded to parishioners’ practical questions about how to include LGBT people and reminded participants that “the church does evolve and change.” He also said he would baptize children whose parents are in a same-gender relationship.
The second example comes from a group of Catholic parishes in Waterloo, Iowa, that are hosting seven “Listening Sessions” in the coming year for “inactive Catholics and Catholic seekers.” They describe the sessions in the following way:
“These listening sessions are an opportunity to discuss your past, present or future relationship to the Catholic faith community in a safe, discrete, and welcoming environment. We’re here to listen, not to judge. If there is some way we can be helpful to you in your present spiritual circumstance, we will arrange whatever additional help or assistance you desire as a follow up to the listening session.”
While not focused specifically on LGBT issues, the sessions welcome those hurt by church leaders, upset about the hierarchy’s teachings, or made to feel unwelcome because of their marital status. This positive parish outreach is in the style of Pope Francis, who champions mercy and welcome as keys to evangelization.
The events in Racine and Waterloo are only two examples of the tremendous work being done to share stories and raise marginalized LGBT voices. Indeed, the faithful people behind them are sources of hope for the Catholic Church in 2015.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry