NEXT STEPS: Examining Your Parish or Faith Community

Today’s post is the fifth installment of New Ways Ministry’s online series, “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry.” To find out more information and a registration form for this multi-part series, please click here

To find the first four installments, 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.

In the last three installments of “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry,” we looked at basic church teaching on homosexuality, church teaching about prejudice, discrimination, and civil rights, and the church’s call to develop pastoral ministry with LGBTQ people. We hope these installments helped deepen your understanding about the more positive, and less well-known, portions of church teaching on LGBTQ issues.

In this next installment, we are going to turn from the hierarchy, and put the focus much closer to home: your parish or faith community.


An important step in discerning and planning an LGBTQ ministry project is to take an inventory of your parish to see how ready it might be to take on such an enterprise or to further develop an already existing program. As we’ve stressed before, LGBTQ ministry is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. There’s no one way to integrate LGBTQ ministry into a parish. Why is this so?

The answer is that each parish is unique. Parishes vary from one another in so many different ways:

  • What type of local community is it in?
  • How familiar are pastoral staff, leaders, and parishioners with LGBTQ people and issues?
  • How are decisions about new projects or programs made?
  • Is the parish open to new ideas that may be considered controversial?
  • How does the parish deal with conflict when it arises?
  • Are there any parishioners who are publicly known as LGBTQ or allies?
  • Is there a visible LGBTQ community in your city or area?

These are just a few circumstances that differ from parish to parish that may impact how each community seeks to develop next steps for LGBTQ ministry.

All discernment and planning for LGBTQ ministry needs to be based in reality, not just hopes and dreams. The purpose of this installment is for you to become more aware of the actual realities in your parish or faith community. Having that awareness will help you know what your next steps will be.

New Ways Ministry suggests that you do an inventory or assessment to get a better picture of your parish before you even begin to brainstorm what your next steps might be. We suggest you look at following five areas: awareness, attitudes, atmosphere, outreach, and leaders/human resources. Try to answer as many of the questions in each section, in as much detail as you can.

New Ways Ministry’s Parish/Faith Community Inventory for LGBTQ Ministry

I.  AWARENESS

  1. Are you aware of LGBTQ people or family members in your faith community?
  2. How do they make themselves known?
  3. Why don’t they make themselves known?
  4. How did you come to know of them?
  5. Is there a visible LGBTQ community in the locale where you live?
  6. What issues do LGBTQ people in your community face?

II.  ATTITUDES

  1. What are the attitudes of faith community members towards LGBTQ people?
  2. Think about the different groups in your parish, both the formal committees/organizations and the informal social groups that may have formed. Would any of these be more or less open to LGBTQ people and issues? Are there groups in your parish that would be distinctly unwelcoming to LGBTQ people?
  3. What would reactions of members be if LGBTQ topics began to become more public in your parish?
  4. How much education would be needed to help change attitudes to become more open and accepting?
  5. What do you think would be the reaction of various parishioners if they saw two men holding hands?

III.  ATMOSPHERE

  1. What characteristics of your faith community would make LGBTQ people feel welcome?
  2. What might make them feel alienated?
  3. Does your parish appeal to a broad range of ages, interests, education levels, family configurations, or other demographic characteristics? (Or, do your parish programs cater to only selected segments of the community: youth, senior citizens, families with small children?)
  4. How many people are in your parish? How many show up for Sunday Mass? For various activities?
  5. How would a newcomer feel if they arrived at your parish for Mass one Sunday? Would there be a formal welcome? An informal welcome? Would the person not be noticed?

IV.  OUTREACH

  1. What existing groups in your faith community would be best equipped for pastoral outreach (e.g., family life, social justice, youth ministry, adult education) to LGBTQ people and their family members?
  2. To what existing programs could LGBTQ topics be connected?
  3. How has your parish dealt with outreach to other marginalized groups?
  4. If you invited an LGBTQ person to come to your parish, what do you think their reaction would be to such an invitation?
  5. What are some ways that your parish can let LGBTQ people know they are welcome?
  6. How is your parish connected to other faith communities in your area? Other social service agencies or projects?

V.  LEADERS/HUMAN RESOURCES

  1. Who are the decision-makers of your parish?
  2. Who are the people whose opinions are highly respected?
  3. What are the opinions of the two groups in questions 1 and 2 in regard to LGBTQ ministry?
  4. Who can you enlist as colleagues in establishing an LGBTQ ministry project?
  5. How are decisions made in your parish?
  6. Are there people with power who might actively oppose an LGBTQ ministry?

You may not immediately know all the answers to these questions. No problem. Have conversations with other parishioners and pastoral staff to get their knowledge and opinions to answer the questions that you find challenging.

The purpose of this exercise is for you to get a good picture of how prepared your parish may be to develop on LGBTQ ministry. There are no wrong or bad answers to these questions. All your answers will provide you information to aid your discernment and planning.

For example, even if after you answer these questions you realize that there may not be much support anywhere in your parish for starting an LGBTQ ministry project, then that may tell you that your first step will be to slowly encourage more conversations about LGBTQ issues in various committees and groups in your parish. (We will discuss more about how to start such conversations in an upcoming module.) So don’t be discouraged if your assessment yields results that you think of as negative. You have to start somewhere, and it is better for you to be fully aware of the reality of your situation so that you can know where it is that you should start.

Your next steps don’t have to be BIG steps. Depending on your parish situation, they may, in fact, be LITTLE steps. But little steps can yield big and important results that will help you to take further steps, of various sizes, down the road. Start where you can—and trust that God will bless your efforts and your journey.

For journal writing:

Click here  to find the questions listed above as a PDF.  Write down your answers to as many questions as you can.  You may want to return to these questions in these coming weeks if you gather more information or make further observations.  The purpose of this, and all the writing exercises in this program, is so that you will have some ideas to look back on at the end of this series when you will be encouraged and guided to develop a plan of pastoral action for your parish or faith community.

Next Installment of Next Steps Series: What LGBT People Want and Bring to a Parish or Faith Community

To find the first four installments of the “Next Steps” series, as well as more information about the program and a registration form, please click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 28, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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