Following discussion with parish clergy, including priests on the presiding rota, the SMPC offers this document for wider consideration and reflection, to consider ways of identifying and integrating the pastoral and sacramental needs of LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, within a broader, parish-based pastoral framework.
This paper is offered by members of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council initially to focus discussion between SMPC members and the Parish Team at Warwick Street. It aims to explore the current situation of Warwick Street Parish and possible ways forward to develop pastoral structures that embrace the vision of a Church seeking to renew itself in the spirit of the 2nd Vatican Council, embracing the joys and hopes of the people of this present time. If the paper is found to be helpful, the SMPC proposes that it might provide the basis for discussion with other stakeholders at the Church of the Assumption. This paper employs the accepted pastoral planning method of “SEE -JUDGE - ACT.”
What is the picture ? Historical & current context
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho, is one of the most historic churches in the Diocese of Westminster, reaching back to 1724. British History Online suggests that due to the ministrations of clergy serving the then Royal Bavarian Embassy chapel in 1780, the area may have been a focus for English Catholics to gather around, with 1000 people, including Catholics, living in St. James’ Parish and many more in St. Anne’s, Soho. Other references suggest that in the latter part of the 18th & 19th centuries, parts of this area offered refuge to poorer people who served the better-off merchants living in nearby Mayfair. The “Portuguese Chapel” and St. Anne’s Parish Church were noted for their ministry to the poor. There are, therefore, historical precedents in reaching out to marginalised groups in the area.
The present time finds Warwick Street Parish with little resident population and an average Sunday Mass attendance (October 2006) of 126, spread over 3 Masses. It will be helpful to compare the 2006 and 2007 statistics. There is a Parish Finance Committee, as required by Canon Law, but no Parish Pastoral Council. A 3rd Order Lay Carmelite Chapter has been established at Warwick Street for many years. A Maltfriscan Community group has recently been welcomed to the church.
Many of those who use the Church of the Assumption do so due to historical ties, having worked in the area, being received into the Church, or married there. Workers from local hotels, restaurants, shops and offices, also use the church on weekdays. The parish is now served by two priests, one of whom is also Vicar-General for Clergy in Westminster Diocese. The parish is dependent financially upon income generated by the letting of commercial property in the adjoining building in Golden Square, rather than church collections.
In March 2007, following a period of consultation with Diocesan representatives, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics, parents and friends were invited to transfer 1st & 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses from St. Anne’s Anglican Church, Soho to the Church of the Assumption. A statement encouraging “full and active participation” by LGBT Catholics in the life of the Church was issued by the Diocese of Westminster on 2 February 2007.
The regular 1st & 3rd Sundays’ evening congregation has an average attendance of 100 + but overall estimated contact with 200-250 people. These Masses are served by a rota of 15 priests from a variety of dioceses and religious communities, 7 of whom are resident or work in Westminster Diocese. The Soho Masses Pastoral Council, 12 people, elected on an annual basis by regular Mass participants, has been responsible for planning these liturgies, and a number of other events.
Following a review of this pastoral provision by the Diocese, a statement was issued in December 2007 affirming the continuation of such a pastoral outreach to LGBT Catholics, within a parish and diocesan context (1), and Mgr. Seamus O’Boyle VG was appointed Rector, to be assisted by other priests on the parish staff.
What are the needs ?
This current moment in the life of the Church of the Assumption provides an opportunity for creative development in the life of the Church and its mission. However, the rapidly transient communities with little resident population which it serves makes it problematic to adopt traditional approaches to parochial ministry. As with many Central London churches of other denominations, it has become a kind of ‘shrine church’ attracting people for a host of reasons
or none, save that of their being resident or working temporarily in this part of London.
The West End of London has long been the focus of recreation and refuge, with theatres, clubs, bars, hotels and restaurants. Growing numbers of homeless people, including increasingly younger age-groups, affected by serious issues of drug and alcohol use, and street violence, as well as a highly organised sex industry, characterised more recently by the worst of human trafficking, are serious concerns for the area.
In recent years, Soho has also become the centre of a highly commercialised LGBT culture, attracting large numbers of visitors into the area from beyond London and the UK. Local statutory services in Health, City Council, Police, and voluntary sector agencies are paving the way in responding to the needs of these various communities. Kairos-in-Soho offers a community-based resource for people exploring different forms of spirituality and personal growth. Proposals have been made for an LGBT social/community centre to be developed in Soho.
Masses for LGBT Catholics started in Soho in 2001 on a 1st Sunday basis. By 2002 numbers had grown and people who had long been distant from the Church were returning to value links with a Catholic community, so that the provision was extended to 1st and 3rd Sundays. By the end of 2006 average attendance at these Masses was 60-70 people, one person having been received into full communion with the Church during this period, and 2 others directed to RCIA programmes outside of London. This faith community reflects, to some extent, the international composition of Soho, including people from Latin America, USA, Eastern and Western Europe, South Africa, Oceania and other Asian countries, as well as all parts of the UK and Ireland.
It is clear that people from many different backgrounds seek a welcoming space, a place where they are able to integrate their deepest human yearnings and experiences, including their sexuality, with the resources which faith offers them as they try to bring meaning to their lives.
From this brief sketch it is clear that the Church of the Assumption, in the heart of these overlapping communities, faces a variety of challenges and opportunities. This has encouraged some of us to look at how the Church has risen to such challenges in terms of inner-city ministry, pastoral outreach and sacramental ministry with LGBT communities, their parents and families, as well as developing an inclusive and welcoming model of Church, particularly for those who feel marginalised or alienated for whatever reason.
What can we do?
Faced with the demands of the Gospel, the human temptation is to revert to well-tried, safe but not always forward-looking ways of doing things. Part of Blessed Pope John XXIII’s vision for the 2nd Vatican Council was that the ‘essential truths of faith endure, but the ways in which they are expressed may change.” So it is with the structures of the Church as it tries to respond to new or growing pastoral realities.
A useful tool to use in responding to such demands is that of “pastoral planning,” based on seeing and hearing the needs before us, reflecting upon those in the light of both our biblical faith and being part of a living tradition in the Church, and developing achievable action which we can evaluate on a regular basis, to check that we are responding to real needs. A key element in this is to gather together those stakeholders who are committed to such a common venture.
While those who gather at Warwick Street for the 1st & 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses are the most organised, it would be helpful for there to be some common conversation between all the groups and key individuals who are committed to the Church of the Assumption, its ministry and mission. A first step might be an invitation from the Parish Priest to a Parish Pastoral Assembly, perhaps between Easter and Whitsun. This could enable people of diverse backgrounds and experience to get to know each other, and to begin to share a future vision as a community “in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ.” (Galatians, 3:28) As such we are companions (those who break bread together) in the journey of faith. Such a gathering might benefit from having an external facilitator.
Many parishes have felt that a helpful step in this process is first to understand who they are, and for what purpose they exist. Thus they have produced a Mission Statement to provide a framework for all that they do. Although, as Church, we would hope that every Catholic community would embrace such understanding and good practice, this is not always apparent, not least to those who are vulnerable in any way, or apprehensive about approaching the Church.
Ideally, a Mission Statement should be developed as the outcome of a process involving all key stakeholders, thus strengthening a sense of common ownership. However, practicality sometimes suggests that a draft could be offered to all interested groups and individuals, seeking their common agreement. Some general, parish Mission Statements which might provide us with useful models may be found in Appendix 1, while Appendix 2 offers Missions Statements for specific LGBT-ministry groups/committees at either diocesan or parish levels.
1. It is proposed that a Parish Pastoral Assembly/Parish-in-Council, open to any person
demonstrating commitment to the life and mission of the parish, be established enabling
structures for collaborative ministry and mission to be developed between the priests and
people of this parish. It could be held on a quarterly basis with an annual evaluation/review
of outcomes and tasks achieved.
2. It is proposed that a Parish Pastoral Assembly/Parish-in-Council Steering Group/Committee be established, including the Parish Team and individuals representing various parish interests – RCIA and adult faith formation, liturgy and music, prayer and spirituality, justice and peace, LGBT concerns, ecumenical and interfaith contact, parish finance, etc. The Steering Group/Committee would oversee pastoral planning in these areas and plan agendas for the wider Assembly/Parish-in-Council. While it might be easier to appoint such a group for the first year, in future this group should be elected on an annual or three-yearly basis.
3. It is suggested that further to the Consultation Process from November 2006 - February 2007 and the Diocesan Statements of February and December 2007, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory affirms that 1st and 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses, particularly welcoming LGBT Catholics, their parents, families and friends, offer safe and welcoming spaces as “gateways” into this and other Catholic communities. Particularly for those returning to the Church after some absence, such “gateway Masses” offer a safe and confidence-building path into greater participation in parish community life, wherever that might be. As Masses which also welcome all members of the parish community they offer an inclusive model of a worshipping community.
4. It is accepted that the priests resident at Warwick Street provide continuity for LGBT Catholics and others regularly attending 5.00 pm Sunday Masses, by presiding also on 2nd, 4th and 5th Sundays. They might also be included in the wider rota of priests offering to preside on 1st and 3rd Sundays.
5. Those who regularly attend 1st and 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses, or who are actively involved in these liturgies as readers, Eucharistic ministers, or musicians, will also be encouraged to attend and/or offer their ministries at Masses on other Sundays, holydays and weekdays, as convenient, all the time respecting people’s commitments to other geographical parishes. Indeed, while some of those usually attending 1st & 3rd Sunday 5.00 pm Masses are involved in their own parish on the other Sundays, others already attend the Church of the Assumption on other occasions, offering to read etc. Such encouragement should not detract from the particular LGBT focus of the 1st & 3rd Sunday Masses. These liturgies have encouraged people to travel, often long distances, to be nurtured by a worshipping community and to maintain their membership of the Church, sometimes in the face of hostility whether from within or beyond the faith community. We should continue to recognise that people are at different stages in their faith journeys and, for various reasons, 1st and 3rd Sunday Masses at Warwick Street will constitute their only contact with a Catholic community. (2)
6. It is proposed that following the establishment of a regularly held Parish Pastoral Assembly/ Parish-in-Council, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, under this or another more appropriate title, should be recognised as a sub-group/committee of the parish, operating within its present Terms of Reference, as found on its website, www.sohomasses.com . It would have formal representation on the Parish Pastoral Assembly/Parish-in-Council Steering Group/Committee alongside other interest-groups and individuals within the parish.
(1) “This full and active participation takes place within the context of the wider
Church and specifically within existing parish structures and pastoral
services, always of course in accordance with the Church’s teaching and
liturgical norms.” (February 2007)
“The parish will continue to be sensitive to the pastoral needs of homosexual
Catholics. Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory parish provides a
welcome to all and every Mass celebrated at the Church has always and will
continue to be open to all.” (December 2007)
(2) While we could encourage people to attend Warwick Street Masses on 2nd, 4th
and 5th Sundays, we should avoid at all times an over-zealous attitude and
respect those who are not prepared to travel long distances every week or
who do not feel able to attend regular parish Masses.
Soho Masses Pastoral Council - 25 March 2008
General Parish Mission Statements:
St. Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill, London
We welcome … people of all faiths and cultures, divorced or separated persons, families with children, gays and lesbians, those in loving relationships, those in difficulty, married couples, single persons, those in recovery, travellers from far and near, widows and widowers, visitors.
We seek … to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to gather the community and tell the story, to Break the Bread and Share the Cup
We celebrate … diversity, a spirit of hospitality, the unity that God wills, enlightening those who seek God, forming small faith communities, reaching out to alienated Catholics, reverencing the dignity of each person, caring for the needs of the less fortunate, empowering Christians to realise their call, providing a spiritual oasis, honouring an understanding among all faiths, nurturing our gifts and sharing them, supporting the arts.
St. Francis Xavier, New York City
We, the Church of St. Francis Xavier, are a prophetic Roman Catholic community where Jesus Christ is recognised as Companion in our journey and made present through our celebration of the sacraments, our proclamation and echoing of the Gospel, and our loving outreach and service to those in most need.
While acknowledging our incompleteness and need for God’s grace, we affirm the equality of God’s people that flows from baptism and we commit ourselves to the spirit of inclusion and collaboration.
We are called to respond to God in our time by being a community where seekers and their questions are welcomed, where injustice in all forms is challenged, where the alienated and the marginalised find a home, and where people are refreshed, reconciled, and renewed in their journey to God. Standing together as a people of hope, we seek to realise the Reign of God.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Chicago
Called by the Father and gifted by the Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is a diverse Catholic community of faith. In union with the local and universal Church we seek to glorify god by responding to the Gospel and promoting the human person through the celebration of the Eucharist, religious education and formation, and service programmes. We care for and empower people to grow as individuals and as a community in the life and love of Jesus Christ.
Most Holy Redeemer, San Francisco
Most Holy Redeemer Parish is a Christian Community in the Roman Catholic tradition. The
Parish draws people from isolation to community, from searching to awakening, from indifference to concern, from selfishness to meaningful service, from fear in the midst of adversity to faith and hope in God.
The community of Most Holy Redeemer shares God’s compassionate love with all people. The parish offers a spiritual home to all: senior citizens and youth, single people and families, those who are straight, gay and lesbian, the healthy and the sick, particularly persons with HIV disease.
As a parish community, we celebrate God’s loving presence in our lives. In worship and sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we are nurtured and challenged to extend God’s kingdom of justice, truth, love and peace by growing in the spirit of Jesus, the Most Holy Redeemer.
St. Joseph’s, Greenwich Village, New York City
We the members of St. Joseph’s Parish Pastoral Council are followers of Jesus Christ. United by our worship in the traditions of our Roman Catholic Faith and chosen from among our sisters and brothers, we share in the mission of the Church.
Affirming the equality of all of God’s people, and celebrating the diversity of our parish, we acknowledge our need of God’s grace and are called to be community in the midst of our community and maintain the integrity of our parish mission.
We commit ourselves to fostering spiritual growth, furthering our sense of community, embracing the needs of our brothers and sisters in loving outreach and services, sharing our gifts with our parish community, and to making the kingdom of God come, in our hearts, in our parish and in our world.
Mission Statements of Specific Diocesan or Parish LGBT outreach ministries:
Chicago Archdiocesan Gay & Lesbian Outreach (based at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – see above)
We, the members of the archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, as people of God, create a sense of community for those who wish to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith, provide an accepting and affirming atmosphere in which to worship in the Catholic tradition; provide opportunities for integration of personal experience through spiritual; growth, share our distinctive gifts with each other and the Church at large, and witness our catholic faith to the gay and lesbian community.
Archdiocese of Los Angeles Ministry with Lesbian & Gay Catholics
The Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics (MLGC) recognises that all persons with a homosexual orientation are capable of living a full Catholic life in union with all members of the Church. MLGC has as its primary goal “ to foster a spirit of community and fellowship among gay Catholics so that they can offer and receive mutual support in living out their lives of faith with the Church.” (Cardinal Roger Mahony 1986)
MLGC takes it inspiration from the Gospel; is shaped by Church teachings and pastoral practice; borrows appropriately from the in sights of the social and biological sciences; and listens, ponders and prays over the lived experience of those to whom it ministers.
MLGC calls on concerned Catholics and all people of good will to know and share in the challenges, burdens and blessings of homosexual persons living a Christian life within the Catholic tradition.
MLGC chooses to follow a prudent pastoral course, accepting people where they are in their discipleship with Jesus Christ, and their membership in the Church, and challenging them to live out fully the call of Christ and the teachings of the Church.
MLGC supports movements for homosexual persons that are consonant with Church teaching, especially those which safeguard human dignity and promote human rights.
MLGC supports the Church as pastors in condemning any treatment in which lesbians and homosexual men are the object of violent malice in speech, action, and law, wherever it occurs.
Concomitant with ministry to homosexual men and women, yet distinct from it, MLGC offers care to all persons living with HIV/AIDS. “Our fidelity to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ make it a moral imperative that we, like Him, reach out in a loving manner to give spiritual and physical help to those who suffer.” (Cardinal Mahony)
St. Monica Catholic Community Gay & Lesbian Outreach, Santa Monica, LA
St. Monica Gay and Lesbian Outreach is a fellowship where gay and lesbian people of faith are welcomed to explore their spirituality and share their experience, strength, and hope with one another. We attempt to fulfil our mission by providing a safe place for Spiritual Events such as Evensong and Retreats; Educational Activities such as speaker nights, lectures and open forums; Social Activities such as after Mass Meet & Greet Socials and informal outings such as bowling; and Outreach to the larger parish and Archdiocesan community.
St. Matthew’s Comunidad ,* Long Beach, LA
The purpose and spirit of Comunidad shall be to actively reach out to, welcome and support Lesbian and Gay Catholics and non-Catholics in their effort to develop, integrate and nurture their own spiritual and social well-being within the spirit of the Catholic Church.
*Comunidad, from the Spanish for ‘community’, is a network of parish-level support groups developed under the aegis of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Ministry with Lesbian & Gay Catholics and existing, in one form or another, in around 20 LA parishes.