Next Steps: Experiencing the Call to LGBTQ Ministry

Today’s post is the first installment of New Ways Ministry’s online series, “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry.”  To find out more information about this multi-part series, please click here. All of the resources in this series are copyrighted to New Ways Ministry. Permission is granted to use them for educational and ministerial purposes provided that you cite New Ways Ministry as the source.

To begin our journey to take the next steps toward developing LGBTQ ministry, we are starting with something with which you should be very familiar: you. In this course, we will be examining a wide variety of topics—church teaching, ministry models, LGBTQ spirituality, and so many more—but the most important topic is this first one: you.

This installment asks you to answer two basic questions:

  1. Have you discerned or are in the midst of discerning a call to Catholic LGBTQ ministry?
  2. How have you experienced that call in real, practical, tangible ways?

Experiencing the Call to LGBTQ Ministry

All authentic ministry grows out of a response to a call from God.  That call is essential, but also sometimes elusive to hear or understand.  Examining your call to this ministry will help you understand both your gifts and your limits—two very important insights to help you best plan for feasible next steps.  Understanding how your call in more detail will serve as a touchstone for you, some interior place you can return to, when challenges emerge.

While there will be similarities between various individuals’ calls, each one is unique.  God always tailors a call to the uniqueness of the person and the particular context the person is in.  God does not call for you to do the impossible or the ideal.   This course is NOT designed for you to come up with an idealized ministry in some imagined perfect parish.  It is designed for you to think about practical, feasible, realistic steps you can take to initiate or further advance the way that your parish approaches LGBTQ ministry. You can only do what your gifts, limits, and your parish context allow you to do.   Everyone’s abilities, limits, and context will mean that they will take different steps along the road to developing LGBTQ ministry for their communities.

In Always Our Children, the 1997 letter to parents of lesbian and gay children, the U.S. bishops advised mothers and fathers to pay attention to the emotions they experienced when learning about a child’s sexual orientation.  The bishops said that feelings “can contain clues that lead to a fuller discovery of God’s will for you. . . . The Christian life is a journey marked by perseverance and prayer. It is a path leading from where we are to where we know God is calling us.”  So, when examining your call, notice what emotions come up for you when you think about different responses.

God often calls us to stretch ourselves a little out of our comfort zones.  There’s always an element of risk in answering God’s call.  To achieve something new, we may have to sacrifice something old.  To respond positively to God’s call also involves becoming aware of our fears, worries, and anxieties.  We shouldn’t disparage ourselves for these emotions; they are part of who we are.  But we need to acknowledge these factors so that we can learn ways to work past them.  While there is always risk involved in God’s call, there is also always liberation and growth if we respond to it.

One Person’s Call

Many people admire Sister Jeannine Gramick, one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, who has been educating and advocating on the part of LGBTQ ministry in the Catholic Church for almost 50 years now.  Some people look up to her as a prophet, as someone who has done extraordinary work.  Yet, Sister Jeannine did not set out to become involved in LGBTQ ministry. Her path was leading her to something very different. But then she heard a call.

How did she hear that call?  She shares the following:

“In 1969, I became a student at the University of Pennsylvania, preparing for a doctoral degree so I could become a college mathematics professor. While I did receive my degree and taught mathematics for several years at Notre Dame of Maryland University, certain events at the University of Pennsylvania changed the course of my life.

“During one semester, the pastor of a local campus church invited me to attend a Eucharistic liturgy in a parishioner’s home. After the Mass, a young man named Dominic said that he’d like to talk with me and gradually began to unfold the mystery of his life. Dominic knew he was different from a very young age. He felt very close to God and the Church. After high school, he entered a Franciscan community, but soon left because he felt his homosexuality was incompatible with religious life. He had tried and tried to become heterosexual, he told me, but he just couldn’t do it. He continued to feel romantically attracted to men. He told his Italian Catholic parents, but they only complained about having a ‘queer’ son, and threw him out of the house. Rejected by his family, his Church, and society at large because of his sexual orientation, Dominic was attending St. Mary’s Episcopal Church because, he said, ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t want me.’

“Dominic asked me, ‘What is the Catholic Church doing to help my gay brothers and sisters?’ He said that the Catholic Church was actually contributing to, instead of preventing, homosexual suicides because of its moral stance on homosexuality. What was the Catholic Church doing to educate people to stop the violence of beatings and murders, he asked? I had no answers for him.

“Dominic and I agreed to plan a Eucharist at Dominic’s apartment for his Catholic friends. The memory of that night will be forever etched in my soul. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. As his friends walked into the apartment, I sensed their apprehension too. After perfunctory introductions, the priest began Mass.

“These cradle Catholics, who had devoutly attended Mass and prayed the rosary in their early lives, felt estranged from the Church that had shaped their values and their religious convictions. They wanted to feel the comfort of a religious ritual where they felt welcomed. The priest and I did affirm them that night. I could sense their elation and delight. I could see tears of joy from one man who held on tightly to his rosary. He later told me he had been thrown out of the confessional years ago and informed that he was going to hell. This night was therapeutic for him.

“That night also helped to heal the estrangement and wounds from religious rejection of the other gay people gathered there. Those few hours in Dominic’s apartment were holy moments as the people reconnected with the Church they loved, but had kept at a distance for years and even decades. We continued to meet for Eucharist on a weekly basis. The numbers grew and so did the healing.

“That night also changed me. God, who had given me a religious calling when I was seven years old, now offered me a further vocation into a new ministry. God led Dominic and his friends into my life for a profound reason. My Church was not providing a spiritual home where Dominic and his friends could feel accepted. My Church was not fostering the truth that gay and lesbian people were beloved children of God. Dominic’s constant refrain, ‘What is the Church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?’ kept nudging me. Dominic died from AIDS in 1993, but his ‘Why don’t you do something?’ became God’s invitation that transformed me into an advocate for LGBTQ people for the last 50 years.”

Sister Jeannine’s call came through a friendship she had developed with a young gay man.  It was not something that she was wishing, hoping, or planning for, but it arrived, and she responded in simple, practical ways.  These first steps, led to next steps, as new calls came to her.

The Story of Your Call: Reflecting and Writing

The story of your call is probably as wondrous and mundane as Sister Jeannine’s call. No trumpets and angels. Just responding to people and life situations, and being willing to allow oneself to be stretched.

You are invited to look at list of nine questions and to answer them from your own experiences.  You may want to answer all the questions, but perhaps one, two, or three of them speak to you so powerfully that you would like to spend your time on only those.  In effect, you are being asked to write your “call” story, similar to Sister Jeannine’s story which was part of this installment. The questions can be found by clicking here.

As with any writing tasks in this course, the writing is for your eyes only and for whomever you wish to let read.

Next Installment of Next Steps Series: Examining Church Teaching about LGBTQ Pastoral Ministry.

To find all previous installments, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 11, 2020

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