While many LGBT Catholics have struggled with their faith and their feelings of being unwelcome and excluded from the church, hardly any have created a comedy show based on their experiences. But Joe Jennison, the director of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development group in Mount Vernon, Iowa, did just that. He wrotethe one person comedy show, Confessions of a Gay Catholic.
Iowa Public Radio interviewed Jennison recently, and he said that he had a difficult time with Catholicism, ultimately leaving the faith for a while, until a friend urged him to go to confession after more than thirty years. Jennison did not shy away from telling the priest his feelings about the Church, saying:
“I went in there to just let him have it. I told him before I started, ‘I just want to tell you that I am a gay man and I lived with a man previously for 15 years, and it was a happy and loving relationship that I don’t regret or consider sinful. Honestly I feel my sexuality is innate and permanent. It’s an important part of who I am, and quite frankly, Father, it’s none of your dang business.’”
The priest was supportive of Jennison, and welcomed him back, saying his sexual orientation was not a reason to be excluded from the parish. However, Jennison noted that faith continued to be a challenging journey:
“All of us would be lying if we said we didn’t struggle with faith sometimes. It’s not perfect and there is no such thing in my head as blind faith. I am fighting demons all the time. But I do feel at the Catholic Church that I am loved and respected by the one person that matters.”
He credits his Catholic upbringing as one of the main reasons he chooses to stay in the church. Even throughout the continued difficulties that the Church has posed, Jennison still continues to identify as Catholic, saying that it is part of his history and identity:
“This is the church I was baptized in. This is the church I was raised in. It’s important to me to feel the holy water and taste the Holy Communion. It’s important to me to have these sacraments I learned about as a child. I have to stay, so they are just going to have to learn to love me, because I ain’t walking out!”
Ultimately, Jennison wants his faith and his comedy show based on his life to be guides for others who have had similar experiences. He says being able to speak with others in comparable situations is just as beneficial for him as it is for the person in the audience:
“It is so incredibly rewarding to stand up there, and share the truth of my heart with people. After I do the show, there are always people waiting to talk to me and tell me their story about issues with their church. They really are appreciative that there is someone there telling this story and allowing them to share as well. It’s just been a great experience for me.”
Sometimes, he shares what he was once told by a priest during the sacrament of reconciliation. The priest, who was speaking through the perspective of Jesus, said:
“You are 100% good. You belong to me. I created you and know everything about you. I know every hair on your head. I love every inch of you and I always will, just exactly as you are.”
In a world where LGBT Catholic experiences can be fraught with despair and isolation, Jennison’s one-man show brings a dose of levity and faithfulness to the conversation. His work and presence ministers to others in similar situations, while also being funny for straight and non-Catholic audiences.
–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, September 2, 2018