The first snows of winter arrived on the day that our Hallam Diocese contingent attended Mass at the Chapel of the Bar Convent in York. Despite the weather, there was an excellent turn out and all were made very welcome. This Mass inaugurated a new service that gives an explicit welcome to LGBT+ Catholics, their families and friends. A special kindness was extended by the Sisters of the Bar Convent in holding this service on the second Sunday of Advent.
Last year, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Bishop Terry of Middlesbrough Diocese and his pastoral advisors discussed how they could enable our LGBT+ sisters and brothers and their families and friends come to know that they are welcome and have a place in the Diocese. The questions asked were “How do people who identify as LGBT+ hear the Good News of Jesus Christ? Where is the place of encounter where that immediate welcome can happen?” The answers came by way of a reminder and by way of example. The ‘call’ the Church receives in every age from Christ, is to ‘go out’, and in our time this call has been led by personal example. Pope Francis has shown time and again the importance of being present in areas where often the Church is experienced as being absent. “We need to leave the places where we feel comfortable to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel”.
In reaching out, Fr Tony Lester from Middlesbrough commenced pastoral outreach to LGBT+ Christians and was given the remit to foster a clear welcome to the LGBT+ community and their families. This ministry creates the opportunity for people to know they are accepted as sisters and brothers in the Lord and valued members of the Church. Sadly in the past, many will have heard a false gospel that they are not welcome and can have no place in the Church. The Bishop wishes to reach out and heal these wounds.
Is this ministry going to be some kind of ‘alternative Church?’ The answer is ‘No’. The Diocese has many groups and associations that focus on particular needs. The normal place of belonging for all is the parish. This will be no different. Does this somehow go against Church teaching? No. In taking this step, the teaching of the Church is not being changed in any way. Instead, other important aspects of Church teaching are coming to the fore and taking their proper place. The first and greatest reality is that we are all children of God and we are always loved and cherished. This is what Jesus shows us. Only God knows the real truth of any particular person – which is why one of the very few rules we find in the Gospels is, “Do not judge”.
The process of discovering God’s call and purpose for us, is always a gradual one that we call discernment. This happens under the guidance and action of the Holy Spirit and requires much patient listening and prayer. Therefore to ensure this outreach is both open and transparent, nothing is being done in secret and everyone can know what is happening.
In support of similar work in the Diocese of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols comments that, “among the many sensitive and pastoral issues around today is the situation of those who live with a same-sex attraction and are often very anxious about their journey to God and their relationship with the Church”. In response to these many clear calls to action, a very grateful thanks is now extended to Bishop Ralph for permitting fliers to be distributed to our parishes, publicising this new and important ministry.
The following text is taken from the ‘Litany of Welcome’ that was used at the inauguration Mass and which we’d like to share. This litany sets the tone and transcendence of this special occasion very clearly:
Who are you? Are you married with kids; worrying for them and committed to their welfare? Are you divorced? Are you married for the second or even the third time? Are you a single parent struggling to make ends meet? Are you gay, lesbian, bi or trans? Well, whoever you are, you belong to us and you belong here because you belong to Christ. Christ is the host here today – and Christ welcomes all.
Are you lonely? Are you a widow? Are you a single man or woman who would prefer a spouse or partner? Are you disabled or disfigured? Have you run out of luck? Are you living with shame? Have you been a prisoner? Well, if you are, you belong to us and you belong here because you belong to Christ. Christ is the host here today. Christ sets this table and Christ welcomes all.
Are you struggling financially? Are you unemployed? Does your life seem flat? Is your faith on a slow-down? Have you been a victim of abuse or violence? Are you homeless or hopeless? Well, if you are, you belong to us and you belong here because you belong to Christ. Christ is the host here today. Christ sets this table and Christ welcomes all.
Have you come today with all kinds of questions? Has your experience of Church been one of rejection and pain? Are you unsure if you can trust what is taking place here today? Has it been a while since you felt safe to enter the doorway of this or any church? Or have you already worked out your place in the family of the Church and are full of faith and enthusiasm? Well, whoever you are, you belong to us because you belong to Christ. Christ is the host here today. Christ sets this table of Word and Sacrament – and Christ welcomes all.
All people of Good Will are welcome here – that’s the really good news! If you’ve been away, you can come back. If you’ve been living in darkness, you can come to the light. If you haven’t been able to believe without seeing Christ – look around you. The Body of Christ has come to Mass today.
Sinners are welcome. Saints too. Everyone is welcome to come to Christ. Our Lord and our God indeed. Let us celebrate. Let us come to Christ.
It was both humbling and uplifting to hear these words of welcome and love at a Catholic Mass and especially so to be involved in helping this outreach get off the ground. I hope that in the course of time, others will lend their support and prayers so that the voice of God’s love for all in Jesus, will be heard ever more clearly.
For more information please visit www.lgbtmiddlesbroughcatholic.org.uk. We normally gather at 3pm on the second Sunday of the month at the Bar Convent in York.
The envisaged dates for 2018 (subject to confirmation nearer the time) will be: 11 February, 11 March, 8 April, 13 May, 10 June, 8 July, 12 August, 9 September, 14 October, 11 November, 9 December.
Dominic Maloney, Sacred Heart Church, Sheffield