Editors’ Note: We’ve asked a number of authors to discuss the state of the American parish and what it means to be church in a time of migration and movement. We also wanted to offer practical suggestions for how parishes can be more welcoming, just, and Spirit-filled in these times. Together, our contributors provide a picture of the U.S. church today, one not so much in decline as undergoing a profound transition. To read all the articles, see the entire collection, The American Parish Today.
I first heard about Out at St. Paul (OSP), the LGBTQ ministry of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, on a date. I was new to New York City, a PhD student in theology who still had not come out to my Midwestern evangelical family. My date was a confident medical professional and lay leader who invited me to his LGBTQ-affirming parish. I appreciated the invitation, but was not ready to accept it.
Years later, after I’d been in my first serious relationship, found a theological home at Fordham University, and settled into my calling as a gay man, I visited OSP for the first time. The Mass I attended took place just after Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, the notoriously homophobic Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage certificates to lesbian and gay couples, when he visited the United States in 2015. The pontiff who asked “Who am I to judge?” had broken my heart. I felt betrayed. I needed to be with my people.
The community that OSP provided that night—and ever since then—has been a balm within a church that continues to wound.
I am not alone. The ministry—set on the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen, New York’s lively gayborhood—has a mailing list of more than five hundred. Many LGBTQ people have embraced their Catholic faith because OSP exists. Some were expelled from other parishes. Others lost their biological families when they came out.
OSP began in 2010 when Fr. Gil Martinez, then head-pastor of St. Paul the Apostle, noticed a number of parishioners who, in another era, could be described as “festive,” “flamboyant,” or “queer.” How could he better minister to the lesbians and gays under his spiritual care? He had a heart for his neighborhood and the multitudes of LGBTQ people exiled from the church. A decade before Fr. Gil’s arrival, there had been a vibrant lesbian and gay ministry at the parish led by Catholic activist Donald Maher, but that was a distant memory for most. Fr. Gil began a new work that fostered servanthood and spiritual formation for lay leaders.
Since its founding, OSP has never tried to hide that it serves out and proud Catholics. The parish prints OSP’s calendar of events in the bulletin alongside other ministries. OSP members give announcements at the end of Sunday’s 5:15 p.m. Mass. The ministry even celebrates a Pride Mass every year in Sheridan Square, the hallowed ground outside the Stonewall Inn where the modern movement for LGBTQ liberation began.
This openness to LGBTQ Catholics has made OSP a target for the Archdiocese of New York and outside agitators. Why can’t LGBTQ Catholics just stay quiet? Shouldn’t they join Courage, the church’s twelve-step program for those “afflicted by same-sex attraction”?