Local community members are making their support known for a lesbian Catholic denied Communion over her same-gender marriage, including with an inclusive liturgy and one parishioner’s letter to the local bishop.
Responding to Fr. Scott Nolan’s denial of Communion to Judge Sara Smolenski, a nearby Methodist church hosted an inclusive Sunday liturgy with a special invite to Smolenski and her wife, Linda. WOOD reported:
“The church says while they welcome everyone to their church during regular monthly Communion services, their message is more intentional during inclusive services.
“‘I am so full of gratitude that these ministers, their congregation, has reached out to open this up and do what Jesus would do,’ Smolenski said.
“The service started with welcoming words, then moved on to prayer. They say their church has a long history of embracing everyone and supporting social justice issues.
“‘We wanted to invite and sort of have a heart for every LGBT person that’s been harmed by the church,’ Rev. Dr. Joan VanDessel said. ‘I’m a part of the (LGBTQ) community too, so for me, it’s knowing that experience of being harmed or not having access to the church. I think we wanted to reach out and be a different voice.'”
Smolenski said that her future at St. Stephen Catholic Church, where the judge has been a lifelong parishioner and where Nolan is now pastor, is unclear. But the issue at hand is, in Smolenski’s words, “really about saying Jesus wants everybody welcome at the table.”
The controversy became public when Nolan told Smolenski she would be denied Communion over her marriage. But parishioners report that another same-gender couple had unexpectedly been denied the Eucharist at their child’s First Communion. There are also reports that gay teachers had been fired, other teachers had left in protest, and that a message had been sent to LGBTQ people they were not welcome. Despite falling church attendance and decreased school enrollment, Nolan defended his actions and is backed by the Diocese of Grand Rapids.
One St. Stephen parishioner, Joshua David Marko, shared his perspective about the Communion controversy in a letter to Grand Rapid’s Bishop David Walkowiak, along with the metropolitan of the region, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, and Pope Francis.
Posted on Medium, Marko said that he had never been “so discouraged in my faith” as a lifelong and involved Catholic. He wrote the letter because he believes the multiple denials of Communion to LGBTQ people are an “inconsistent application of Church teaching” and are “poor pastoral practice.” Marko continued:
“My community has been working since last winter to respectfully address our concerns through outreach to Fr. Scott and yourself while making every attempt to keep the crisis out of the hands of the media. It is so very frustrating to receive an indignant bump on the snout from the Diocese after receiving nothing but disregard to all our previous attempts at dialogue.
“A consequence of the Diocese’s response is that it emboldened a hateful response from ultra conservative Catholics. I was in disbelief seeing the anger poured onto members of my community by people who I would have presumed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. My community is experiencing a crisis. Instead of supportive outreach we were attacked by people waving a war banner stitched from your words. These people invaded the Mass at my church to celebrate the pain of my community with theatrical genuflections to receive the Eucharist. It was disgusting to see Communion used as a bludgeon to exacerbate conflict when that is the antithesis of its meaning. Yet this abuse is not just tolerated but encouraged by your words.”
Marko concluded with a fitting appeal to the bishop for positive action that leads to reconciliation:
“Censorship of these issues damages trust in the Church. Will discussion among the discouraged and dispossessed continue to be driven underground? Or, will you choose to have a voice within that group that offers support and hope? I appeal to you, Bishop Walkowiak, to be thoughtfully compassionate in how you engage with all members of the Church in order to bring the community closer together rather than to widen divisions and continue to drive life-long Catholics away from the Church. This will be needed in 2020 more than ever.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2019