You are probably familiar with the expression "coming out", which refers to the increasingly prevalent practice of gays and lesbians declaring their sexual orientation to families, friends, colleagues and/or the general public.
This can be unsettling for many people, particularly those with a traditional view of homosexuality, or those who have yet to come to terms with the issue.
For such reasons, many would prefer that such subjects not be raised at all in the church or in public.
While all people seek to conform to certain societal standards in order to achieve a sense of "belonging", we also seek to be recognized as individuals. When you are so recognized, you cease to be a nobody and you become a somebody in the eyes of the community.
It is this kind of recognition that gays and lesbians are seeking when they come out to be acknowledged as distinctive and multifaceted individuals.
Keeping secrets is both stressful and destructive of human relationships. By coming out, gays and lesbians are trying to maintain the integrity of their relationships with partners, families, friends and community.
In our community, people regularly talk about their "private lives" their spouses, their children, their weekend activities. What most "out" gays and lesbians are doing is exactly the same: talking about their significant relationships and activities. In this, they are behaving no differently from anyone else.
Within the context of the church's ministry, this openness is both a challenge and an opportunity.
Any open discussion of sexuality is disturbing to some. Social standards and church teachings on issues such as marriage and divorce, gender roles, premarital sex, and homosexuality have evolved considerably over recent years, and will likely continue to do so.
On the other hand, such openness about our interpersonal relationships is a critical component of effective ministry, not only to gays and lesbians, but to all people.
The church is not of one mind on many issues, including homosexuality. Effective ministry in this area may be less about reaching consensus on the answers than it is on simply permitting the faithful to ask the questions. We are all on a pilgrimage together, and if we are to follow the path together, that pilgrimage includes these components:
If dialogue is respectful, disagreement can be accommodated through this framework.
The process of improving pastoral care and guidance to gays and lesbians, their families and friends is, by and large, similar to improving outreach to many other communities.
One of the keys to effective outreach is to be inclusive, to work under the premise that our churches' doors are open to all. For this to be effective, we need also be intentional in our welcome to the stranger. This means recognizing newcomers, with all of their distinctive hopes and fears, explicitly. It is also dependent on creating safe places where these distinctive gifts and needs can be discussed openly, in a relationship of trust, without fear of rejection.
The Task Group on Gays and Lesbians is considered an "outreach ministry" of the Diocese of Ottawa. It was formed because of the belief that our church need improve its outreach, to address the spiritual and pastoral care needs of the gay and lesbian community, including their families, friends and colleagues. Many of these people have felt only hostility and condemnation from their church, without any countervailing outreach or pastoral support.
Since its inception in 1997, the Task Group has come to understand that many of the facets of an effective outreach ministry to gays and lesbians and their families and friends can also be successfully extended to other groups who feel excluded from our church communities.
The Task Group can provide further information and resource persons to those who wish to build more inclusive and intentionally welcoming parishes. For more information, please contact us:
Chair, Outreach Coordinating Committee
Secretary, Task Group on Gays & Lesbians