The first in-person Outreach LGBTQ Ministry Conference, held in June at Fordham University, was an occasion for celebration of LGBTQ+ Catholic identities, commitment to ongoing ministry, and discussion of the LGBTQ+ issues today.
In three keynotes and eight panels, experienced ministers, theologians, and queer Catholics of all stripes shared their perspectives on what LGBTQ+ Catholic ministry means now.
Yunuen Trujillo, an attorney and lay minister, wrote about her impressions of the conference in National Catholic Reporter. “The entire conference was uplifting and it created a space for LGBTQ Catholics, parents and allies to gather, make community and feel welcome in a safe church space,” she stated. “It was also a safe space to discuss many of the issues those of us in LGBTQ Ministry face daily, and the opposition we sometimes have to deal with in doing our work.”
The core messages of the conference centered on increasing love in the church for LGBTQ+ people. Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Fr. Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, S.L., of New Ways Ministry were the keynote speakers. Fr. James Martin, S.J., who started the “Outreach” ministry which organized the conference, served as the host and moderator.
“Love is the priority,” Stowe said in his keynote. “Love comes first. There is no morality without love of God and love of neighbor.”
Massingale, a theologian and out gay priest, reminded the conference-goers in his keynote that Catholics — including LGBTQ Catholics — need to have an intersectional approach to ministry in order to undo white supremacy in church spaces, so as to be able to include all.
Trujillo commented that one challenge facing LGBTQ+ ministry is that many in church leadership have an incomplete understanding of who LGBTQ+ Catholics are and what needs they have—particularly those who are not white, male, and privileged.
“In order for us [who are close to LGBTQ persons] to do a better job, we must be more inclusive in our own ministries and we must raise the voices of the most vulnerable,” Trujillo wrote. “It is not about being a voice of the voiceless, it is about ‘passing the mic’ whenever possible.”
In her conference address, Sr. Gramick, called on her listeners to be bold in speaking up. As she shared on the Outreach website, after fifty years of LGBTQ+ ministry, Catholics should be unafraid to take risks for what they have come to know as right.
Though Gramick is well aware of the challenges facing LGBTQ+ Catholics, their families, and their allies, she offered a message of hope and persistence to the conference attendees, calling on them to “say what is in our hearts and minds.”
“Each one of us has a prophetic role to play because the Holy Spirit relies on us to speak up to bring about change,” she said.
Gramick shared the words of her fellow Loretto Sister Mary Luke Tobin: “Go out on a limb … that’s where the fruit is.”
She assured her listeners that God would be with them in their work:
“God ultimately takes care of us if we trust, even when we are afraid to speak words or perform actions we believe are right, although they might not guarantee a successful outcome. Speaking our truth, especially when we hold a minority position, following where we believe God is calling us even though the road looks bleak, confronting an unjust situation in church or in society—these and other circumstances seem to put us beyond where ‘sensible people’ go. But God is always with us. We are called to risk the precariousness of climbing up and going way out on those tree branches because that’s where we’ll find a fruitful reward.”
My own experience at the conference left me reassured by Sr. Gramick’s words, confident that God is present in LGBTQ+ ministry. In the panels, the prayers, and the casual conversations that filled the two days at Fordham, there was a palpable sense of gladness and welcome. At this first in-person Outreach conference, LGBTQ+ Catholics and ministers created a space to see the possibility of a church in which all are truly welcome.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2022