Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The LGBTQ+ Ministry: 25 years of Service and Awareness

This year, the LGBTQ+ ministry will celebrate 25 years of service to the St. Francis of Assisi community. Jane Paris, one of the founding members, remembers, “We got started because the friars at St. Francis and Immaculate Conception invited ‘New Ways Ministry’ to do a workshop in Durham. A handful of people from St. Francis went, and we just kept meeting and talking. “‘New Ways Ministry,’” says Jane, “ is a national organization founded by Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, both of whom had a history of supporting and ministering to the LGBTQ+ Community. New Ways provides a wide range of services, education, and weekly reflection on the scriptures.”

That was in 1999. As member Joe Pietrus points out, the ministry’s mission continues to be “to affirm the intrinsic value and self-worth of all people and to welcome them into full participation in the faith community.” St. Francis exists on the ‘New Ways’ website as an LGBTQ+-friendly parish; many people find it through that website. The ministry is one of inclusion at a parish that prides itself as a welcoming place for all of God’s children. Joe speaks about how he got involved in the ministry here. “Somehow, the ministry learned I had helped to start a support group known as Always God’s Children (AGC) at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC. I inquired or was asked about helping to start an AGC program at SFA, and we developed a plan on how to do that. Ministry members took on a lot of hard work, and about a year later, in December 2010, we held our first AGC meeting. Eighteen people attended – two facilitators and 16 parishioners and friends. What I remember most from the meeting were the words of a father, attending with his daughter, who at some point in the meeting said, “I am amazed that this is taking place in a Catholic parish!”

The experience of those in the ministry interacting with people outside the parish often goes along those lines. As Jane says, she is frequently asked by those who aren’t familiar with St. Francis Parish’s welcoming nature, “Are you a real Catholic Church?” We certainly are, and much of the inclusiveness is from our Franciscan roots. “As the friars of Holy Name Province lived the gospel, our understanding of the singular uniqueness of every human is consistent with the teaching of Franciscan scholar John Duns Scotus. We are called to minister to and understand the diversity of each human being as God has created them in love,” says Father Jim Sabak, our resident friar, speaking from the Franciscan perspective. Holden Sewell, a ministry member since 2020, agrees, “We bring a sense that everyone is made in the image of God. We don’t ask people to be accepting; we ask them to be respectful. I have seen people surprised that we are Catholic, but we want them to know we are here, that we are a true Catholic Church, and that we follow its teachings. We have brought some young people back to the Church who left because they didn’t feel the Church would accept them.”

Current LGBTQ+ Ministry coordinator Tim Hackett understands feeling welcomed at St. Francis. Tim joined the ministry in 2016 when he and his husband, Jim, moved to Raleigh from Chicago. Both were cradle Catholics, but Tim fell away because he felt unwanted. Jim missed the Church and returned as a parish member in Chicago, where Tim went occasionally. However, when they found St. Francis, he says, “Something clicked, and the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is your place now,’ and it has become our home.” He echoes the same sort of experience as Holden, “Many young gay people have left Church,” he says, and “I can relate, but can tell my story and tell them not to give up hope (in the Church).” Tim feels the ministry reflects the spirit of St. Francis and the Franciscans, “We’ve had several people in the parish tell us that they joined our parish because of the fact there’s an LGBTQ+ ministry; it tells them what sort of parish this is, and about the ‘attitude.’ Outreach is a huge part of St. Francis, and having this ministry exist here indicates that we ‘walk the walk, and talk the talk,’ as they say.” 

As with every ministry, those in the LGBTQ+ ministry feel a sense of accomplishment in their participation. Jane says she is inspired by “seeing how we can be out in the parish and involved in this and many ministries and be welcomed across the board, without exception. Maybe the friars ran interference, but we never felt like outsiders here.” Joe Pietrus feels similarly and emphasizes what those in this ministry bring to the parish: “We are allowing people to come to a better understanding of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ person, and better perceive and appreciate their gifts to the Church and society.” Holden adds, “I think people see that there’s always room for growth and that the Church is growing in the right direction. This ministry is a wonderful blessing. We moved here from out of state and are a blended family; we went through a bad experience at a Catholic school and parish before, but now see how things are different at St. Francis.”

Their outreach goes beyond the parish, and the LGBTQ+ ministry has information booths at Triangle events such as OUT!, Raleigh PRIDE, and DURHAM:PRIDE. “We aren’t insular and have always been about outreach to the larger community. The LGBTQ+ ministry has gone to other states, specifically Virginia and several places within North Carolina, to reach out to other Catholic groups. It is truly eye-opening, and I, and the people we talk to, have a whole different sense of the presence of the Church,” says Jane. Tim emphasizes, “Jesus reached out to all people, not just the powerful, but especially to the dispossessed. I am inspired to think of his work and how I can mirror that in my life. The connection I make with people is my biggest thing; getting to know people leads to open conversations.” This openness and ability to share in honest dialogue are fundamental tenets of the ministry. Tim says, “No one is offended; we all realize and remember we are all part of God’s family.” We are genuine in the belief we are  ‘all God’s children,’ and the LGBTQ+ Ministry at St. Francis is one example of how our parish lives its Franciscan charism of accepting and recognizing the entirety of God’s creation as made in love.

Author: Mike Watson