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Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons

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Director of CMGLP

Msgr. Val Handwerker

(901) 725-2700

Ministry meets need in diocese - June 30, 2005

In 1997 the Bishops of the United States issued a document entitled, Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers. The message was developed by the Bishop's Committee on Marriage and Family.

The message speaks to parents, and notes that if parents learn that one of their children has a homosexual orientation, they will probably face a challenging, confusing time marked by the emotions of anger, relief, guilt and fear. The purpose of their document, the Bishops stated was "to offer loving support, reliable guidance, and recommendations for ministries" that would be suitable to the needs of parents and to their gay and lesbian children.

Always Our Children is an outstretched hand of the bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family to parents and other family members, offering them a fresh look at the grace present in family life and the unfailing mercy of Christ our Lord."

The Bishops also underscored the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."

Always Our Children develops the theme of acceptance in three parts. It notes that parents need to accept themselves and their own struggle; to accept and love their child; and to accept God's revelation about human dignity and sexuality as a prerequisite to understanding homosexuality in a person's life. "Your child may need you and the family now more than ever," the Bishops said.

"He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful and supportive."

The principles that are reflected in Always Our Children are among the principles guiding the new ministry to gay and lesbian persons in the Diocese of Memphis.

Church is home to all people of God By Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D. - May 19, 2005

Within the past few months, I have done a lot of thinking about the Church as "home." As "home," the Church is not just a building; it is also a community of faith, the gathering of the faithful, the "people of God."

In baptism, we are received into God's family, and church is the home where that family gathers to celebrate God's unconditional love. Throughout our lives, church is the home where together we mark the pivotal moments, those moments that tell us who God is and who we are because of God's love. With other members of the family of God, we are like homing pigeons returning time and time again to celebrate births and deaths, baptisms and marriages, confirmations and the Eucharist. These sacramental moments are spent together in addition to our regular "family" gatherings at Sunday liturgies, pastoral council meetings, Scripture studies, choir rehearsals, adult faith formation sessions, youth groups and so many other vital parts of our lives as Christians and Catholics.

But as I have reflected on the Church as home, I have become more acutely aware of the number of people _ the number of Catholics _ who are no longer comfortable in their home. In fact, some are no longer certain that the Church is their home. Sometimes it is the circumstances of life that cause people to feel estranged or separated. Occasionally it is a misunderstanding of the Church's teachings that keeps people away. Often, individuals hide a deep pain that is rooted in knowing that, for whatever reason, their lives do not conform to other people's lives; or worse, they feel that who they are is unacceptable.

Recently I met with such people. Many of them were born into Catholic families, baptized as infants and attended Catholic schools. They have embraced the faith handed on to them. Others, through the examples of friends and having felt called by God, became Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. For all of them, being Catholic is at the core of who they are. At the same time, they are people who are not sure of "their place" in their home. They are people _ wonderful, good Catholic people _ who are gay and lesbian.

On two occasions, we came together to listen. At a first meeting, there were gay and lesbian persons. At a second meeting, there were Catholic parents of adult gay or lesbian persons. Among the parents were Catholics who have spent their lives as active members of the Church, helping to make it a welcoming home for many. They have given generously of themselves, even though they knew that their own children felt unwelcome. These parents of gay and lesbian Catholics are extremely proud of their children. They see their goodness and their giftedness, but they also see the loneliness of their gay and lesbian children as no one else sees it.

As I listened, I could not help wondering: how deep is our river of faith if we are not actively working to be sure that all are welcome in their own home _ the home given to each of us when we became members of God's family through baptism? How far will we go to ensure that all are valued for the unique gift each one is? How much, I asked myself, will we allow our hearts to grow if we simply lay aside preconceived notions of who does or does not belong? And finally, I wondered: how great will God's love be in each one of us if we follow the example of Jesus who loved all, lived for all, and died for all?

We are called to BE church to one another, to be God's family to one another. In giving us this Church, God has given us a spiritual home here on earth. This spiritual home is to be a precursor of the home we will have for eternity when all walls have come down and we are truly and completely dwelling in union with God and with one another. Our task while we are in this earthly home is to do all we can to help each other grow into the home we will share in heaven.

To be sure that we do not leave anyone behind, to be sure that all are welcome in their own home, and to be sure that we promote genuine gratitude and reverence for the gift that each one of us is to the Church, we have begun to lay the foundations for a diocesan ministry with Catholic gay and lesbian persons.

A brief look at history _ from slavery to the "march of tears" of our Native American sisters and brothers to the grape strikes in California _ reminds us that God's work is always hampered when human beings are afraid of differences in each other. A new ministry with gay and lesbian persons will push open even further the door to promoting understanding and compassion among all of us. It will open the door to "home" for many who are an important part of who we are, and to a segment of our family that has been apart from us for too long.

The message of Jesus is clear: "Love one another as I have loved you." In my meetings with gay and lesbian Catholics, I told them that God does not withhold love from any of us. I believe that wholeheartedly. God's love is unconditional and that is the gift God offers us in Christ Jesus: the gift of loving each other with that same Godly and unconditional love.

Please pray for this ministry. Participate in the work of welcoming the entire family into the home which is our Church, where all are embraced by God's unconditional love. Let us all dare to love as God loves.

Stephen By Millicent Cobb - May 19, 2005

The following personal reflection was written by Millicent Cobb, a Cathedral parishioner. Millicent was one of the parents who shared her journey of faith with Bishop Steib in preparation for the establishment of the new diocesan Catholic Ministry With Gay and Lesbian Persons.

When Stephen was born, his father hung a star on his bedroom door as a welcome home sign saying, "A Star is born." He did indeed have all the potential to be a star. He was a poet, artist, musician and wonderful human being.

Growing up Steve was the middle child in a family of six. He had two older brothers, two younger brothers and a sister who was doted upon in our male dominated family. From the time he began to walk and talk, Steve never met a stranger. His father was a career Army officer so every few years the family was on the move from New York to Texas, Oklahoma to Germany, to Maryland and back to Texas. I loved being a mother. When their father was overseas, I managed home and family alone. Throughout their lives my children knew love and pain.

But this is a story about Steve's life.

"Happy Tuesday! Love Steve" were the words inscribed on the tiny card tucked inside the cheerful bouquet of colorful spring flowers. I'll never forget the feeling of sheer joy as I carried the fragile turquoise vase filled with its pretty array of pinks, yellows, violet and purple blooms popping out amid lush green leaves and ivory baby breath. Steve, a college freshman now was like that all of his life. As a toddler, he helped himself to a fist-full of flowers from a neighbor's garden. "For you," he said with a smile. Fortunately, the neighbor was an understanding friend.

As Steve grew older, there were songs sung as he plunked an old guitar. Notes he had written were placed by the coffee pot for me to find in the morning.

Before knowing what the words meant, Steve began hearing fairy and flake; queer came into play later. Trying to protect him as a child was difficult. As an adult, it was impossible. Looking back and searching for the truth I must honestly admit I asked the wrong questions, made the wrong comments and ignored the obvious. There was a comfort zone during the short period that he dated a lovely girl named Susan. During times of family celebrations and gatherings, Steve watched as his brothers came home with their wives and children.

It was at Steve's sister's wedding that there were clues of a downward spiral. He seemed depressed and when questioned by his aunt, he replied he wanted to go back to "his own." She tried to encourage him by stating: "You are with your own." But she knew what he meant; he wasn't fitting in with this world of couples.

I believe Steve began to separate himself from his family when he identified himself as the Prodigal son in a poem that he wrote to his family asking forgiveness for the self-destructive path he was on. The drugs, the unpaid debts, and the deceit widened the gap between him and his family. I have often thought that if Steve could have zeroed in on his gifts and talents rather than on his sexual orientation that his path would have been a brighter one. But then, I have to share in the responsibility for the stereotyping, the denial, the desire for conformity, the silence when what might have been expressed was acceptance of his homosexuality and his friends. What was communicated to Steve was that he was not "OK".

Feb. 20, 1988 was a bright and sunny Saturday morning. The telephone rang and my life was forever changed. "Steve is dead. He committed suicide last night," the caller said. At twenty-nine years of age, my son was gone forever. At Steve's wake and funeral his family reached out to his friends with love and compassion. They were welcomed into their homes and hearts with gratitude for their love and caring of Steve. I wondered then if it could have been different. I wondered whether he would have seen that his friends could have measured up to his hopes if only he would have brought them home or to his sister's wedding. Might there have been acceptance that would have dismissed his fears of rejection? Instead I only felt regret that we apparently hadn't given him the kind of hope that made room for such love and acceptance.

Stephen's life and death have made me more sensitive to the gay community and more welcoming of their love and friendship. I pray that as a family, a church, and a community we won't wait until it's too late. I have learned with every fiber of my being that if there is judgment of a person, there is no room for love.

Stephen was "born a star." He is still a star shining brightly for us to remember the precious gift of his life and all life. I love him. I miss him. I will continue to pray that we all become more loving.

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