English Catholics “Building a Bridge”

The theme for this year’s conference (taken from Fr James Martin’s book “Building a Bridge”) was “A Time to Build”. Looking back on an extraordinarily successful, stimulating conference, what strikes me most is how much of this building Quest is already doing, and has done.

The first and most obvious sign of this was staring us in the face, from the panellists’ desk Two of these, Mark Dowd and James Alison, have been well know to Quest for years, as openly gay Catholics. The other two, Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, and Clare Watkins, reader in theology at Roehampton University, in contrast, are pillars of the institutional church. The presence of Bishop Peter was just one fruit of the continuing work by our chair, Ruby Almeida, to meet with all the bishops in the regions where we have active Quest regions. Clare Watkins was with us for the first time, but will be with us again in November, for an important workshop on conscience, discernment and accompaniment – another fruit of our continuing dialogue with English bishops, in this instance with Cardinal Vincent Nichols (initially), and subsequently with Bishop Sherrington.

Further fruits of this continuing dialogue, included a letter from Cardinal Nichols to the priests of Westminster diocese, in which he recognised Quest as one of the groups in the archdiocese engaged in pastoral support for LGBT Catholics. He also authorised the display in Westminster Cathedral, of a poster advertising the work of Quest (alongside that of the Westminster Pastoral Council for LGBT Catholics). In the diocese of Nottingham, our East Midlands branch have two years in succession, been able to celebrate a mass for LGBT Catholics and their families. Cardinal Nichols’ letter, and the poster, should be invaluable in continuing our outreach to other dioceses.

However, “building a bridge” is not only about meeting with bishops. Reports at the AGM, on the final day of the conference, described how Quest members have in addition been going  into Catholic schoolsm working with Stonewall and independently, as LGBT role models to talk to students and staff about our own experience of being both LGBT and Catholic.  In the opening panel discussion, Clare Watkins had observed that there is a problem with the metaphor of building a bridge between LGBT Catholics and “the church” – because we are also a part of the church. So, she asked, is not the bridge also between the church (including LGBT Catholics), and others on the outside? or perhaps, a bridge between us, and God? On both these counts, too, we had evidence and reports of how Quest is building bridges. Among those attending conference for the first time, was a conspicuous presence of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people, in greater numbers than ever before. This was the first fruits of our new work now beginning among LGBT refugees. On the other hand, reports of a most successful weekend retreat at Mount St Bernard’s Abbey illustrated how we are also helping Quest members to build a personal bridge to God.

(The opinions in this piece are Terry’s own, and not necessarily those of Quest as an organisation)