I regret that for this issue, I have been unable to include the usual reports from our regions. These will resume for future issues. However, there has been a great deal of activity at the national level. We repeated last year’s successful pilgrimage to Walsingham, and members of Quest have been extremely busy reaching out to Catholic bishops, and to secular LGBT groups (especially, but not exclusively, Stonewall)
“A Queer Pilgrimage to Walsingham”
The feast of the annunciation celebrates two things, firstly, God’s action in entering the human world as Jesus in order to save humanity, and secondly, humanity’s willing embrace of God’s action through Mary’s freely given acceptance of the task of being the Mother of God
It is in this important feast we have the two key actions firstly God sending his son to save humanity and secondly Mary’s acceptance of what God is asking her to do – give birth to Jesus . We have a covenant – an agreement between God and his people. Walsingham is the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was founded to remember this joyous event – Mary’s giving to the Lord and his promise to us. This joy is offered to pilgrims who come to Walsingham on pilgrimage.
I have been on pilgrimage to Walsingham virtually every year since the year 2000 when I returned to practice my faith. The earlier pilgrimages were to the Anglican shrine as I was an Anglican up until 2014 when I was received into the Catholic Church. In that year I missed the pilgrimage because I wasn’t sure how to go on an organised Catholic visit. This year (2015) I was invited by the Ruby to join the Quest annual pilgrimage.
The experience of visiting Walsingham was different as an Anglican to that as a Catholic. I suppose the biggest difference was how I felt about the pilgrimage. I feel the Anglican shrine is more institutionalised whereas the Catholic shrine is less formal. To understand the difference I am guided by Richard Rohr who argues that both are needed. The former Anglican more formal visits were in response to the early identity forming part of my life as a trans woman. The latter, this year’s Catholic pilgrimage was more wisdom orientated and better suited to the later stage of my life as a woman. Rohr argues that to move from the first stage to the second stage of life one must ‘Fall Upwards’ – he explains that this usually happens after a major crisis. In the second part of life there is a more contemplative seeing which grows after many years (for most of us LGBT people) of ‘conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving and forgiving reality.’ This is certainly true for me and the Anglican pilgrimages were a necessary part of my formation whereas the Catholic pilgrimage is more suited to the more contemplative second and joyful stage of my life. I hope and trust that this is the case and I have arrived at the second stage of my life. I trust that I have learned from being through many painful life experiences during my extended transition as a transsexual woman. Rohr is positive about this process of life change and suggests that the first and second parts of life can be held in a creative tension. In a sense I needed my early experiences as much as I need the later experiences, both have enabled me to grow closer to Jesus’ way of being open and loving in my relationships.
I have found that the past 14 years of being on pilgrimage to Walsingham have been a significant and spiritual event and have I have never failed to be deeply moved. The feeling of belonging to a small group of fellow pilgrims has always been brilliant and especially so this year.
The Quest pilgrimage was a new and wonderful realisation of this closeness and love. It was the first time that I was within a group of lgbt (and supporter) Catholics who were my fellow travellers, it feels right. I was delighted and touched by two particular parts of the pilgrimage. The first was the walk from the slipper chapel to the Church of the Annunciation carrying the San Damiano cross and a statue of Mary of Walsingham. It was a hot summery day in September when even a common lizard came out to see and hear this queer yet joyful sight of rambling people. The second experience was being at mass on the Sunday at the shrine church where the whole pew was filled by Quest pilgrims, a proud feeling of solidarity and presence in the church of the outcasts. I am sure Jesus would smile and say ‘yes’, 2 Corinthians 1:20.
Reflecting on the Quest pilgrimage to Walsingham I am draw back to Mary and her covenant with God. I am sure that in this year of Mercy we are similarly called as lgbt Catholics to respond to God. The church must honour God’s promise to show us mercy whereas we must through our daily lives demonstrate mercy to those around us – this is the covenant between God and us his lgbt children. May we all be called to pilgrimage in 2016.
– Claire Jenkins
Stonewall’s School Role Model Program
When Stonewall’s Chief Executive Ruth Hunt addressed our conference in Derby last year, one of the projects she spoke about was working with faith schools to promote lgbt inclusion, their “role model” programme, in which out LGBT people visit schools, and talk to pupils about their lives and their faith. She invited Quest members to participate in the program, and several of our members have since taken up this offer. Our chair, Ruby Almeida has now done several school visits. In this article, she describes the nature of the program, and also her first visit to a school in West London:
Stonewall works with people from different backgrounds, jobs and life experiences who give up their time to visit schools to talk about their experiences of growing up as an LGBT person. Stonewall currently offer Role Models to secondary schools but will also be visiting primary schools in the near future.
In October 2015 I attended a training session for Role Models and was soon doing school visits. In February 2016 Stonewall did a training session specifically for Quest members. Since then, offers for school visits have been coming through on a regular basis for Quest. It is a wonderful opportunity for young pupils to have the opportunity to hear about the lives and experiences of a diverse group of the lgbt community, particularly from us of a faith tradition. Stonewall work with many faith groups and I have been told by Dominic Arnall ( head of Projects and Programmes) that the most engaged with this scheme are the Catholic schools. Such engagement has demonstrably been the case on all the visits that I have done at Little Ilford School, The Beacon School and at Brownedge School in Preston.
Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education has in various forms been part of the National Curriculum for schools in UK since 2000. So these talks help both staff and students to have a better insight and understanding of this part of the curriculum. Invariably both staff and students are fully engaged and enthused by the talks and the Q&A sessions afterwards.
I did my first talk on 25th November at Little Ilford School in West Ham, London. This is one of many of Stonewall’s Champion Schools and issues of social justice and equality are high on their curriculum. I had the dubious honour of speaking just a few weeks after Sir Ian McKellan had spoken there previously. The staff and students were wonderfully receptive to hearing about lgbt lives and gave me a warm welcome. I did several talks that day, and it was gratifying to have students come up to me afterwards to ask further questions and to tell me that they enjoyed listening to the talk. This is a wonderful project for Quest to be involved in and I look forward to other Quest members participating in the Role Models programme.
Quest have several members signed up to the School Role Models project. Your Bulletin would like to hear from them too, about their visits and about these wonderful schools and their students.
Quest: Engaging With the Church
In our “Icon of Emmaus” workshop during the 2014 Conference in Scarborough, part of the discussion concerned ways in which Quest could help the church to expand pastoral provision for lesbian and gay Catholics. At the 2015 conference in Derby, we heard how meetings with Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster had led to an agreement in principle from the Cardinal, for a poster promoting Quest, together with the Westminster LGBT Pastoral Council and Courage. Unfortunately, Courage has refused to cooperate with us, but just the fact that the commitment was given in principle, shows that talking to bishops can bring positive results far removed from the hostility experienced a few years ago. Since then, accompanied by local Quest members, Ruby and local Quest member Claire Jenkins met with Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham. Ruby and Midlands convener Tony Dimambro, also met Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton. Later, Fr Kieran Fitzsimmons and Ruby met with two priests from the Portsmouth diocesan pastoral provision team. Similar meetings are planned, in other dioceses.
The purpose is simply to describe to the bishops, and other Catholic leaders, the work that Quest is currently doing, and to offer some insight into lgbt people’s experience and perspectives on the Church. As Ruby noted on Facebook, the meeting with Bishop McKinney was productive, and should lead to better relations with the Nottingham diocese. The meeting was very cordial and many LGBT issues and ideas were discussed, Bishop McKinney expressed genuine interest in the work of Quest and we look forward to closer relations with the bishop and his diocese. Claire has subsequently had another meeting with Bishop McKinney, at which it was agreed that an LGBT Mass will be celebrated in the diocese for the “Year of Mercy”. It is anticipated that this will be some time in October.
It is expected that there will be similar progress with meetings in other dioceses. In Westminster, Cardinal Nichols has appointed Msgr Keith Barltrop to liaise with lgbt people of the diocese. Ruby and I have had a meeting with Msgr Barltrop at which we discussed possible ways to assist clergy to expand or improve their present ministry for our community. He has since asked Cardinal Nichols for an appointment, to consider these possibilities. The Portsmouth team that Quest met with recently, raised the possibility of Quest going directly into parishes, to talk about our work. Quest has also received a request from the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service to meet with them. We look forward to continuing this exciting, potentially productive work.
Safe Landings for LGBT Catholics?
A few years ago, I was heavily involved in what were then known as the “Soho Masses”, but attended my own local parishes only intermittently (there were three of these at different times, as I moved around before settling down in Surrey). This lack of parish involvement was not out of any particular reluctance though. Back in Johannesburg, my partner and I had participated fully and enjoyably in parish life, including some years joint service on the parish council. But after Bruce left me to return to South Africa and I found myself single once again, for some reason I simply found it difficult to get to know people, or to become as involved as I might have liked.
The turning point for me, came when on a rare visit to a local Mass, I read of a new initiative in my diocese, to draw back into the life of the church, those who for any reason had become estranged or alienated. The program was called “Landings”, and was built on a short program of weekly meetings, in small groups of current parishioners and those no longer attending. Although by then I was certainly not “estranged” from the church as a whole, I was somewhat removed from parish life. I signed up, and found the process particularly helpful. For me, it most certainly did what it was designed to do: it got me back into full participation in the local parish, with the confidence to be completely open and honest about my life as a gay man, my relationship with my partner, and my work as an activist for lgbt inclusion in church. The result has been overwhelmingly positive, as my fellow parishioners here in rural Surrey have been not only accepting, but fully supportive of me and what I am doing. Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend the program to anyone who is not currently active in a parish, but might like to be – or to anyone already so involved, who would like to take up Pope Francis call to evangelize.
Landings was founded by the Paulist Fathers in the U.S.A. during the 1980s and continues to be a reconciliation ministry of the Paulists. It has since developed an international presence and, in 2001, Landings was introduced to the UK. It is estimated that over the last 30 years Landings has helped around 100,000 people who have left or drifted away from the Catholic Church and who would like to explore the possibility of rejoining the Catholic community.
Now based at Farm Street, Landings which is a lay led course, is a space for those who have been thinking about becoming more active in their Catholic Church after a time away. It is an eight week experience that offers “a safe place to land,” a place where your voice will be heard and a place for listening, for asking questions, and / or reconnecting with your faith as an adult.
I later learned that the program in my diocese was a trial run. A few years later, Bishop Kieran Conroy launched a wider program at a meeting at Heythrop College, which Ruby and I attended. Fr Dominic Robinson of the Farm Street parish is the designated priest co-ordinating the program, and in due course launched a Landings group in that parish, which Ruby joined. Talk to her, and ask her about her experience.
Quest Committee Report
Key points of the Quest National Committee Meeting Sat 5th December 2015
As Chair, Ruby Almeida reported on a successful visit to Rome for the meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) in October. Four National Ctte members had been present – herself, Hazel Barnes, Sandy Taylor and Terry Weldon – giving Quest a high profile. She had been elected to the committee of the GNRC. She also discussed our continuing co-operation with Stonewall through its schools “LGBT role models” programme, possible Quest input into Stonewall’s literature for faith schools, and Stonewall’s forthcoming inter-faith seminar
Our secretary Bart Smith reminded the Committee of his intention not to seek re-election. We will need to find a replacement.
Our paid up membership now stands at 181. This represents a continuing steady improvement from the low point a few years ago. Our financial position remains healthy.
Conferences 2016 Scarborough will once again be held in Scarborough, which feedback two years ago showed had been one of our most popular venues yet. For 2017, we hope to come down South, and discussed possible venues, theme and speaker.
Will Chapple had discussed with several of the convenors their perspectives on the role, activities and difficulties of local groups. He reported groups differed, but as Quest depended on local groups, so a degree of regional independence was natural and acceptable.
Terry reported on progress with Quest Bulletin. Although at conference 2015, the possibility had been raised of paying for some technical assistance with this, we have now agreed this will not be necessary. The next issue will have a strong focus on the October family synod, and the GNRC conference.
Under new business, there was an extended discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing Quest. One the one hand, your committee is already fully active and stretched with our traditional and currently new activities. On the other, there are exciting new opportunities opening up to us in current changing circumstances. We are investigating possible means to take advantage of these to become an even more valuable resource and support for our members. This could include exploring the possibility of obtaining external funding.
The next meeting of the committee will be on Saturday 5th March, 2016.
New Committee Member: Dr Claire Jenkins
At our meeting on 14th May. we were delighted to welcome newly co-opted member, Dr Claire Jenkins.
Claire is a transsexual woman and a convert to the Catholic Church, who was previously married with 4 children She holds a PhD for her research into the effect of transitioning on the family members of transsexual people.
In her short time with Quest, Claire has already made a substantial contribution. Together with Ruby Almeida our chair, she met with Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham – and returned later for a follow up meeting, with the bishop and some members of Quest East Midlands local group, where a “Year of Mercy” diocesan Mass for LGBT inclusion was agreed for October 2016. At the time of writing, she was preparing to join a panel with Fr Keith Baltrup and one other, to speak to Catholic Voices about being trans in the Catholic Church.
Help Wanted: Secretary
Bart writes: The post of Secretary is key to the organisation of Quest, dealing with the procedural issues and, as the saying goes, keeping the wheels oiled. To give those who might wish to put themselves forward for nomination some idea of what they might be letting themselves in for, here is a brief outline of what the post entails. I can, of course, give more details to anyone who is interested.
The job description for the Secretary is in the Quest Constitution, paragraph 16(d). The key tasks can paraphrased thus:
To convene all meetings of the Committee, keep minutes of of all General Meetings and Committee Meetings and issue all notices and keep the membership informed, through the appropriate Quest publications, of the general proceedings, activities and decisions of the Committee; receive all correspondence addressed to QUEST and communicate it to the Committee or the appropriate member thereof;
Another part of the job description, responsibility for distribution of Quest national publications, has been taken over by other committee members.
I don’t want this to sound too daunting. This kind of procedural work has been made so much easier with recent technological advances; all members of the National Committee and the larger part of the membership are on e-mail it is easy to distribute the Agenda and Minutes of meetings and the AGM. The only time there is any substantial printing and envelope stuffing (sending paperwork to those not on e-mail) for “snail-mailing” is in July in the run-up to the AGM
The National Committee meets four times a year outside the annual conference. The initial work of organising the venue, preparing and circulating the paperwork may at first seem a bit overwhelming; I would imagine having set the process in train for the start of the year 2016-2017 and am sure you would receive assistance from other experienced Committee members at the beginning, so with a bit of experience it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up this part of the job.