by Vicki Otto, Sonoma California Companion, LGBT Ministry Board Member
During my commute a few weeks ago, I heard a lovely classical music rendition of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” As I reflect on the beginning of Gay Pride Month, I can’t help but wonder if there was a reason why that song stayed in my memory. One of the definitions for the word pride is, “satisfaction with achievements.” Looking back on the changes of the last few years in our Church and in the lgbt community, there have been many moments that are sources of pride for us. Through his actions and words, Pope Francis has given us a new sense of pride in being Catholic. In the lgbt community, there is also a renewed sense of pride and affirmation stemming from support of different groups and individuals throughout the world.
Pope Francis has made being Catholic “cool” again. In our recent troubling times, people felt a sense of shame regarding the Church; some did not acknowledge publicly they were Catholic. Over the last year, Pope Francis has offered a new understanding of the Church, not by changing doctrine, but rather through his actions. The Pope’s ability to welcome people and offer hospitality has been a welcome change. While the moments that we have witnessed this have been a source of pride, offering hospitality in our own parishes and communities continues to be one of the biggest challenges we face as Church today.
As a Precious Blood community, offering hospitality is part of our spirituality: we are called to ensure everyone has a place at the table. The lgbt Ministry Committee has been reflecting and developing a process for parishes and groups in the province to use in helping everyone embrace this tenet of Precious Blood hospitality more fully. Using a talk by Fr. Joe Nassal, the committee identified components of being a welcoming community. They are: providing an open door by defining the boundaries that keep people from being welcomed; seeking the lost by taking an inventory of who is on the outside and go out and look for them; creating a safe space where people can seek and speak their truths; and standing in the breach by holding the contradictions that confront us.
In February, Fr. Dave Matz and I gave a presentation to a California parish as the pilot for the project. Because the parish is not a Precious Blood parish, we discussed Precious Blood spirituality before offering reflections on the four tenets of being a welcoming parish. One of the most spirited conversations was when they began identifying people “left on the outside.” Included in this group were those who are gay, divorced, in the U.S. illegally, and single parents. It was an eye opening experience for each participant as they understood that even though they consider themselves “friendly,” there are people who don’t feel they have a place at the table. The pastor continued to challenge the community in a subsequent conversation by calling the community to be a place of mercy and love in addition to one of welcoming. The parish continues to discuss our presentation and is striving to find ways to begin bringing down the boundaries that were identified.
As I reflect upon this experience, I hope there will be an opportunity to share this presentation with other parishes and groups in the province. If we believe in the spirituality of the Precious Blood, we are called to ensure everyone is welcome and has a place of the table, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered. By talking about what offering hospitality and being a welcoming parish is, we can have a sense of pride in the ways we are welcoming and challenge ourselves to being even more inclusive. John Lennon wrote in his song, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” What if we were more welcoming and more hospitable as a community? What would our community look like? Imagine.