A local Catholic parish in Connecticut has started a new initiative aimed at healing the relationship between its LGBTQ members and the broader spiritual community.
Two parishioners, Diana Harris and Margot Burkle, created a new initiative three years ago at St. George, Guilford, called the Building Bridges Ministry. Inspired by the experiences of their own LGBTQ children, Harris and Burkle sought to foster connections between their Catholic faith and the LGBTQ community.
Reported by Zip06, the mission of the Building Bridges Ministry is to explore ways of demonstrating “‘true Christian love and support’ to LGBTQ people, who have often been rejected or experienced discrimination at the hands of church officials because of their identities, as well as educating community members about LGBTQ issues.”
As part of the ministry, the parish hand-crafted blankets and shipped them to Trinity Place, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in New York City. The shelter provides educational as well as vital resources to assist those who have been rejected by their families, often in the name of religion. Moreover, research shows that LGBTQ youth, particularly trans youth of color, experience disproportionate amounts of discrimination, prejudice, and harassment and homelessness.
Harris and Burkle demonstrate a keen understanding of this vulnerability; the symbolic nature of a hand-crafted blanket bestowed to LGBTQ youth who have been rejected by their families in the name of religion is truly representative of God’s unconditional love and compassion. Harris said:
“‘[T]his is a special situation because not only do they use the blankets there but…the people get to take the blankets with them as they start their lives out on their own.'”
Additional outreach efforts to the LGBTQ community and their families who are practicing or former Catholics are also underway. The Building Bridges Ministry plans to screen documentaries that explore LGBTQ experiences with the Catholic Church. It also hopes to capture the stories of LGBTQ youth and their families so that the wider Catholic community may understand the challenges and obstacles faced by their LGBTQ siblings. The ministry put out a call for submissions to the wider community, writing:
“Everybody has a story…..
· Stories unite us
· Stories empower us
· Stories create empathy
· Stories make us feel less alone
· Stories build bridges
“Won’t you share yours?
“Are you a member of the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community or do you have a friend or family member who is? St. George’s Building Bridges Ministry wants to invite you to share your story.
- How did being Catholic play a role in your/your family member’s/your friend’s coming out story?
- When have you/your family member/your friend felt welcomed by your church community?
- What are the struggles?
- Do you/your family member/your friend still attend Catholic services or has the church been left behind? Why?
“For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The Building Bridges Ministry at St. George is indeed a powerful example of how local Catholic parishes can work to heal the isolation, exclusion, and rejection that many LGBTQ persons have experienced. At St. George, it was the leadership of two mothers of lesbian daughterss whose experience inspired them to do outreach. In this manner, the effectiveness and influence of the ministry was organic in nature, rather than a model imposed from above.
The beautiful initiative of St. George’s Building Bridges Ministry is part of a greater movement across the U.S. and around the world where parishes are developing ministry and outreach for the LGBTQ community. New Ways Ministry maintains a webpage listing parishes that we have been told welcome LGBTQ people. If you know of such a parish that should be included on the list, please use the online form on that page to recommend it.
If your parish is interested in initiating an LGBTQ ministry or in developing an already existing one, you might want to consider New Ways Ministry’s “Next Steps” program, which allows participants to plan and discern together the best form of ministry that fits their parish. To inquire about this program, please use the contact form on our website.
New Ways Ministry also offers a complementary program, “Creating a Spirit of Welcome,” to help Catholic schools plan initiatives on LGBTQ topics.
–Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, January 23, 2019