“As a gay man, it often feels impossible to remain Catholic,” writes theologian Jason Steidl in a Commonweal article which is part of the magazine’s series on contemporary U.S. Catholicism, “The American Parish Today.”
Steidl, a Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at St. Joseph’s College, writes about finding an affirming parish in St. Paul the Apostle Church, Manhattan, after a long journey to finding his “calling as a gay man.”
In his essay entitled “Necessary Affirmation,” Steidl writes about the radical healing power of an affirming faith community as a primary need for living the faith. Steidl first visited the Out at St. Paul (OSP) ministry in 2015. From his first visit, he knew he found a healing community for him:
“The community that OSP provided that night—and ever since then—has been a balm within a church that continues to wound.”
The experience of being wounded by the church resonates with many LGBTQ Catholics. The church is diverse, and yet many Catholic leaders still continue to deprive our LGBTQ community of rights and dignity. That is why it is so important to be in a community that affirms one for who they are. Steidl writes that whenever he feels the impossibility of remaining Catholic:
“As a gay man, it often feels impossible to remain Catholic. So much of the church’s official teaching is harmful and so many of its leaders are homophobic. Whenever my soul aches, however, I find healing and a home at St. Paul the Apostle. I am Catholic because I know that I am loved and supported there. OSP is Christ’s heart beating for LGBTQ people in Hell’s Kitchen.”
Steidl, who has been an occasional guest blogger for Bondings 2.0, previously shared his negative and painful experience with Courage, a Catholic ministry which promotes a 12-step approach for Catholics experiencing what they call “same-sex attraction” to practice celibacy. His post, “The Courage to Be Me,” also described his path to integrating his faith and sexuality.
Steidl notes that OSP’s visibility has drawn criticism both from the Archdiocese of New York and outside groups who ask “why can’t LGBTQ Catholics just stay quiet?” Indeed, “quiet” is one word that cannot be used to describe OSP. Founded in 2010, OSP drew many proud members of the LGBTQ and ally community in the surrounding Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. OSP has never tried to hide what they do: a quarterly Mass, regular social events, lectures, volunteer activities to benefit those afflicted by HIV/AIDS, even celebrating Mass during Pride every year in New York’s Sheridan Square, just outside the historic Stonewall Inn.
But outside of all the events and activities, OSP is most importantly a place of true affirmation, a place where LGBTQ people can see themselves in the image of God:
“Many OSP members are partnered or married. Our diverse sexualities and genders are expressions of the divine, gifts to the church and world. We are not ashamed of God’s goodness revealed in our romantic and sexual relationships, which testify against a tradition that describes us as ‘intrinsically disordered.’”
Steidl writes that OSP has room to grow too. Mainly white, male, cisgender, and upper-middle class, OSP has tried to take an intersectional approach in recent times. Additionally, although some members have gone on to attend seminary to move towards priestly ordination, no such opportunities exist for women in the group.
Affirming communities must continue to grow, especially outside of major metropolitan areas and across greater demographics. In a church with a divided heart, the necessity of a community that affirms one for their God-given uniqueness is ever-growing, and is always needed.
If you want to find an LGBTQ-friendly parish or faith community, click here. If you would like to recommend a parish as LGBTQ-friendly, click here and scroll to the form at the bottom of the page. If you are interested in learning more about making your parish or faith community a more welcoming place, check out the resources on New Ways Ministry’s web page on “Parish Life & Pastoral Care.”
Jason Steidl has launched a new Facebook group, “Theology Quarantined,” to highlight the work of young career theologians through an interviews series. If you would like to learn more about this project, click here.
—Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, April 20, 2020