The following story is by Jackie Frett, President PFLAG Hinsdale and Director Gay and Lesbian Ministry at Notre Dame Parish in Clarendon Hills, Illinois.
The setting wasn’t what I expected. A lovely old home in Elmhurst, Illinois, with candlelight and comfy chairs around the fireplace and about 30 people, as I was soon to find out thirty amazing people.
I was invited to an evening of conversation about ways the Catholic Church might be a more welcoming place for all. The gathering was at the residence of the chaplain of Elmhurst College, Scott Matheney. The host was John Cepek, National President, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
This meeting was sponsored by PFLAG, as part of their Straight for Equality Program, started with the idea that if we are to be successful in our fight for civil rights for GLBT persons we must enlist the aid of straight allies. If every gay child had the support of four loving, informed, outspoken people, just imagine the impact.
Our meeting started by introducing ourselves to the group. But what started as name, rank and serial number quickly turned to stories, powerful stories.
There were stories of loss of religion. Not loss of faith, but an inability to be part of the institutional Catholic Church which had turned its back on them and their child. Or worse yet, a church representative that told them that a family member was to be ostracized and the offending family members sexual orientation to be rejected and ignored. This was the story told by Jody Huckaby, PFLAG Executive Director. Jody comes from a large Catholic family of eight siblings four of which, including Jody, are gay. When Jody’s older brother came out, the priest’s advice to the parents was not one of loving unconditional support.
There was the story of the minister still healing from wounds inflicted by a congregation not willing to accept one gay person into their midst. The minister used the words “bloodied” and “crucified” to describe the experience but not the words “I quit” or “I give up,” instead looking for ideas to continue the work.
We heard stories of success at Old St. Pat’s parish in Chicago, with their outreach and education initiative just one year old and drawing about 100 people to each of their presentations. My own story, of what feels like failure in comparison, was of the soon to be three year old Gay and Lesbian Ministry at Notre Dame Parish in Clarendon Hills, IL that struggles to just stay alive. The articles I was once wrote for the bulletin now cancelled, the Always Our Children pamphlets removed, hidden or destroyed and the ministry all but silenced.
A young woman matter-of-factly shared with us that because she is a lesbian she was told by her Catholic university to take counseling or leave. She chose the latter.
It was wonderful to hear all these stories. We were united in our faith, not all of us Catholic, but all of us working for the same goal. There were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and straight allies. There were ministers, chaplains, theologians, parents and grandparents.
One Catholic mother of a lesbian daughter who feels rejected by her Catholic Church, said she had to find a way to “love through my fear and anger.”
I came away with the answer to how the Catholic Church can be more welcoming to GLBT people. It’s very simple. They can listen, something our institutional Church steadfastly refuses to do, perhaps out of fear. Do they fear that upon hearing these compelling stories they would be moved to change?
We ended the meeting realizing this was just the beginning of a regional initiative of people of faith to be a force for change for our GLBT bothers and sisters.
We gathered e-mails and phone numbers. We wanted to hear more. We had questions to ask, plans to make. We drew strength from each other.
I left the meeting with a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to be with these remarkable people again. In thinking about that night I am reminded of the prayer to the Holy Spirit. Truly these remarkable people are doing God’s work and “changing the face of the earth.”
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