Setting the Table, Preparing Catholic Parishes to Welcome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People and Their Families, James A. Schexnayder, 2011.
Reviewed by Peter Maher
Jim Schexnayder is a retired priest of the diocese of Oakland, California who has spent over 30 years ministering to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics. He is co-founder of The Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) and is presently their resource director.
He has written this resource book for parishes seeking to find right attitudes, language, knowledge, strategies and skills to become sensitively inclusive of the many people who feel excluded by church language and practice around sexuality identity. He has enormous pastoral experience and reflection on experience to build real and achievable outcomes for parishes. Indeed they seem sometimes to be a little too simple and achievable.
As someone who has tried to do this in the inner city suburb of Newtown, I am well aware of the pain this ministry can cause in even the most gay-sensitive suburb in Sydney. Even when parishioners are on side, as they most certainly are in Newtown, the catholic protestors from outside the parish who harass catholics leaving the church on Friday nights has meant calling the police to ensure the safety of people attending the Mass. So Jim’s encouraging words and fine strategies are not without some cost to parishes trying to implement them.
That said, this is a fine and very readable book with a compassion that hides the pain of his personal journey. Schexnayder has managed to transform that pain into a very useful practical manual for parishes. This is a book that stays pastoral and positive, emphasizing the best pastoral elements of the church’s teaching, while not hesitating to challenge the church to do better with its language and practice.
On the CALGM website, Schexnayder says: “I wrote this new book to be a resource for parishes which would like to explore how their communities may become safe, supportive and healing places for people whose lives, faith, and spirituality have been challenged and enriched by their sexual identity and personal integration. Setting the table is creating a spiritual and communal environment for welcome, growth and participation.”
“This book attempts to consider the questions: who, why, and how. It offers resources from Scripture, Church teachings, human sciences, and effective diocesan and parish models of ministry. My hope is that this book will contribute to the core mission of each parish as it speaks the good news of Jesus Christ and the universal and surprising love of our God for all people.”
A strength of the book is Schexnayder’s stories – the stories of the pain of exclusion and fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends. They ring all too true for me as I reflect on my ministry in this field. The saddest stories are of faith filled young people who in coming to acceptance of their sexuality are rejected, thrown out home and church, alienated by their youth groups and left alone, afraid and lost. As one young man said to me recently when I asked him what the church meant to him, he replied “I don’t think I can live without the Eucharist, but I can’t deny who I have found myself to be either”. Schexnayder’s book opens up a way to say to them “You don’t have to give up either. We have set a place at the table for you too”. Sadly we are saying goodbye to many of these young people, and equally sadly, their parents and friends as well. The logic is if the church can’t accept my son or daughter, then they can’t accept me.
I still meet lesbian and gay catholics working for the church, especially in education, who are very afraid that if their sexual identity becomes known by their employer they will be forced to resign their job. There are recent stories that make this fear quite founded and real.
You can purchase this book online for US$15 by contacting Fr. Jim at rd@calgm or from the website: www.createspace.com/3606590
Published in the Swag later in 2012