Congratulations to New Ways Ministry / “Bondings 2.0”

New Ways Ministry is an invaluable, inspirational gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities, originally set up by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr Robert Nugent, way back in 1976/7, after Sr Jeannine was challenged by a question from a young gay man, “What is your church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?”

Since then, the organisation has grown and flourished, in spite of hostility directed from the CDF and others towards the ministry itself, and to Sr Jeannine and Fr Nugent personally. It is today under lay leadership, with Francis DeBenardo as executive director. Their website summarizes their valuable activities as

Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, we foster dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of LGBT people as full and equal members of church and society.

This simple statement does not do full justice to their full range of activities and programs, which include retreats, “Next Steps” workshops, Dialogue Sessions, Pilgrimages, specialist programs for women religious and priests, a “Bridge Building” award, and every five years, a major USA national symposium, designed specifically for Church leaders and ministers, presenting the latest theological developments and pastoral practices in lesbian/gay ministry. Publications include “Bondings“, a regular newsletter.

In November 2011, as Advent began, Frank DeBenardo began a new venture to complement these activities. This is a regular blog (which rather oddly is not mentioned on the website) , named “Bondings 2.0”, after the printed Newsletter. In his opening post, he described the blog as

I am venturing into a new approach to using words: a blog.

As education is a main focus of our ministry, I will attempt to use this blog to help educate people about the many new ways that lesbian/gay issues are being developed in the Catholic church.  As with most blogs, there will occasionally be opinions expressed and, perhaps, actions that we suggest you take to help make our church a more just community for all people.

Words are important.  The mystery of the Incarnation, which we are preparing to celebrate, teaches us that words should heal, unite, reconcile, and do justice.   Most importantly, words are most powerful not when they are spoken or written, but when they are “made flesh” in the real world of action and solidarity.

I hope and pray that the words on this blog will help us all to incarnate the church community and the civil society in which we wish to live.

Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

I began following Frank’s blog soon after. Although its focus is heavily on the American church, I still found much of interest and value. After reading a short announcement about a then upcoming “Next Steps” workshop, I wrote and asked if there was any possibility of doing something similar here, in the UK. There was, and we did.

In the time leading up to the conference, I found myself reflecting deeply on a major gap in LGBT ministry here: we have the very valuable Soho Masses in central London, and we have Quest nationally, but neither of these does or can do the full range of work done in the US, where they have New Ways, CALGM, and Fortunate Families, in addition to gay – friendly Masses in San Francisc0 and New York, and Dignity. I found myself feeling distinctly jealous – and the Holy Spirit, I know from Ignatian spirituality, often speaks to us through our feelings. I found I was often asking myself the same question that Sr Jeannine’s friend was putting to her: “What am I doing for my gay brothers and sisters  (outside Soho Masses)?” There’s the blog of course – but could there be more?

This came more closely into focus when I attended the Next Steps workshop in London last June, and was challenged to commit myself to three realistic and achievable ways in which I personally could undertake to expand my involvement in LGBT ministry. One of the ways I identified for myself, was to look to continue to present this very valuable program in the UK.

The news announced this year of the Soho Masses move to Mayfair has further pushed my thinking, on the urgent need for wide – ranging ministry, not only to those able and willing to attend Soho Masses, and not only to those in Quest, but also to many more who are presently not being reached, and to those faithful  Catholic  mothers of children. Many of these are understandably terrified that if Catholic teaching is sound, their sons may be doomed to hell. They too, need ministry.

And so, in a reverse direction to Frank, who went from wide-ranging ministry to add blogging to his activities, I have been contemplating going from a narrow focus on blogging, to a greater emphasis on direct face – to – face work, promoting the Next Steps workshops, and perhaps adopting and adapting some of the other New Ways methods. Quite how I will be able to do this is as yet unclear to me – but yesterday I had a discussion with the Jesuit Provincial Dermot Preston SJ (whom I know from his time in South Africa some years ago, and worked with in connection with the CLC), on embarking on some serious spiritual direction. Part of what I am looking for guidance on, will include finding a way to do this expansion into more direct, focused LGBT ministry – and assisting others to develop their own.

Stay tuned for more information on my own personal “Next Steps”, as I clarify and develop my thoughts, in the time ahead.

Meanwhile, for light relief, take a look at Frank’s 500th post, Time to Pause for Some Levity, complete with the wonderful and  very relevant cartoon (reproduced above):

Last week, on January 1st, The Washington Post‘s “Style” section printed it’s annual list of what is “Out” and what is “In,”  an annual inventory of what is hot and what is not in American culture.  Listed among the various fads, TV characters, celebrities, and  the latest political lingo was this one little item of Catholic interest:

Out:  Bishops

In:  Nuns

This note obviously refers to the many stories during 2012, when it was proven time and again that Catholic respect for nuns has been on the increase.  This respect is due in no small part to the fact that many nuns view LGBT issues primarily as justice issues.   In 2012, nuns’ support of LGBT issues contributed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) run-in with the Vatican.  Back in April and May of 2012, when the LCWR story was front-page news, the following cartoon ran in many papers and was circulated widely on Facebook and the internet:

 

via  « Bondings 2.0.

A.M.D.G!

(Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to the greater glory of God).

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