This short study examines the scope and purpose of pastoral accompaniment with LGBTQ young people. Before getting started, it may be a good idea to define the phrase young people. By “young people,” I am referring to high school-aged students (ages 15 to 18) in the United States, emerging adults or college-aged students (ages 19 to 25) and young adults and early career-aged people (ages 26 to 35). I am not taking into account “tweens” (ages 10 to 12) or middle schoolers (ages 12 to 14).
Therefore, when I use the phase young people, it is an umbrella term that encompasses young people from 15 to 35 years of age, which is a large developmental period from a psychosocial standpoint.
(Many of my reflections and suggestions in this article are drawn from my 2022 book, Pastoral Care to and Ministry with LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults.)
What is accompaniment?
The term accompaniment has become a buzzword in Catholic youth and young adult ministry circles, but without a lot of explanation and clarity behind the word. Accompaniment can mean different things to different people.
First, accompaniment is part of pastoral care—that is, accompaniment is part of the broad and diverse matrix of pastoral care. Second, this component of pastoral care falls under much larger category of Christian discipleship. Christian discipleship has many components: community, conversion, evangelization, faith, leadership, morality, prayer, pastoral care, service, stewardship, spirituality and more. Hence, I like to situate accompaniment as a component of pastoral care, and pastoral care as a category of Christian discipleship.
Accompaniment is synonymous with mentoring. Accompaniment is one-on-one or small group mentoring to help cultivate Christian discipleship. In my youth ministry course, I discuss accompaniment as having four parts: pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, moral guidance and vocational discernment. This is the reason that accompaniment falls under the auspices of pastoral care, because it involves listening, empathy, compassion and discernment.
Try not to get “bogged-down” with the terms pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. All lay ministers and people of good will are surely capable of being good listeners. That is being a pastoral counselor with a lowercase “c,” as distinct from someone who is professionally trained. The same holds true for a spiritual director. If you can listen with intentionality, then you are capable of being a spiritual director with a lowercase “d.” This four-fold process of accompaniment is mentoring with young people at its very best.
What is accompaniment with LGBTQ young people?
Accompaniment is a hallmark of Pope Francis’s pastoral theology as well as his theology of youth and young adult ministry . Pope Francis strongly encourages adults to mentor youth and young adults. In his 2019 apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit,” the pope states that mentors “should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them; allowing them to be active participants in the journey.” Mentors play a significant role and integral part in helping to sustain young people in their relationship with the larger Catholic Church.
According to diversity scholar Ellen D.B. Riggle and adolescent psychologist Sharon S. Rotosky, “Perhaps one of the biggest needs in the community is mentoring for LGBTQ adolescents and young adults as they come out and transition into their adult lives” . Accompaniment with LGBTQ young people looks very similar to accompaniment with straight and cisgender youth and young adults.
Perhaps gender identity and sexual orientation concerns might be more prominent in the mentoring sessions. Nevertheless, accompaniment with LGBTQ young people is a pastoral and spiritual faith-journey.
There are a few common qualities for adults who accompany LGBTQ young people. First, be open and affirming. Second, be open to becoming an LGBTQ ally. Third, be available to meet regularly (once a month). Fourth, be a good listener. Fifth, be empathetic and compassionate. Sixth, be able to engage in meaningful conversations. And seventh, don’t be judgmental.
Accompaniment with LGBTQ young people, whether it is in a high school, parish or university setting, revolves around creating and sustaining relationships with young people. Accompaniment with LGBTQ youth and young adults is about hearing and listening to a young person’s personal stories about life and their successes and failures. Accompaniment is an integral part of pastoral care and very much considered a ministry of presence.
Why is accompaniment with LGBTQ young people important?
The young person being accompanied is experiencing and learning to grow in holiness and Christian discipleship through apprenticeship with an adult role model or guide. There are three dimensions for the young person going through the accompaniment process: mentoring, witnessing and spiritual friendship.
One important aspect of accompaniment with young people is mentoring. Mentoring is typically a more formal accompaniment process between two people. Mentoring is an active process of cultivation and supervision of personal growth and development of someone else. As part of the accompanying process, mentoring fosters growth in holiness through everyday interests, circumstances and struggles .
A second significant feature of accompaniment with youth and young adults is witnessing. The church maintains, as Pope Saint Paul VI wrote in his 1975 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” that witnessing is “the first means of evangelization of the Christian life.”
Witnessing is part of evangelization, which is a broader category within Christian discipleship. The three components of evangelization are as follows: witnessing (the simple living out of the Christian faith) , sharing (the modest spreading of the faith to people in your sphere of life of influence) and outreach (the various activities and programming of the faith community or congregation) .
Witnessing is an effective method or approach to be used between mentor and mentee because it continues to foster a relationship around Jesus Christ.
A third noteworthy characteristic of accompaniment with young people is spiritual friendship. Spiritual friendship allows for mutuality, accountability, sensitivity and reciprocity within the accompaniment process. There are two biblical narratives that capture spiritual friendship within accompaniment: the Emmaus story (Lk. 24: 13-35) and the Good Samaritan narrative (Lk. 10: 29-37). Think of spiritual friendship as walking together in faith towards Jesus Christ. Ideally, it is a spiritual journey that should produce Christian joy .
The accompaniment process is a ministry of presence. Like all ministries, there will be “bumps in the road”: obstacles, irregularities and setbacks. However, the heart and soul of accompaniment is still active listening, empathy, compassion, discernment and building and sustaining relationships.
Who can accompany LGBTQ young people?
In truth, God is the ultimate “accompanier.” God always loves and awaits human beings with stretched out arms. God never abandons us; God is always present amidst our suffering. God, who never rejects anyone, is the real one who walks with LGBTQ young people.
The reality is that anyone who feels called to accompany a LGBTQ young person is wanted. Not all adults are called to work with young people and perhaps even fewer feel called to work specifically with LGBTQ youth and/or young adults. This type of work and accompaniment with LGBTQ young people is a special ministry.
The qualities that constitute a good mentor or accompanier are important to consider. Pope Francis lists several qualities of an effective and affective mentor or accompanier. This is a faithful Christian who engages with the church and the world, constantly seeks holiness, is confident without judging, actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind, deeply loves people, is spiritually self-aware, recognizes her or his limitations and boundaries and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey.
The work of an adult accompanying a young person is the work of pastoral care. And it is the work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of presence and mentoring. The one who accompanies is providing an important service to young people and making a fundamental contribution to the church.
What does accompaniment look like with LGBTQ young people?
Accompaniment with LGBTQ youth and young adults is an important element for pastoral ministry. Sadly, it does not happen very often. There are probably a myriad of ways to accompany LGBTQ young people. Here are three ways to accompany that stand in solidarity with the Christian principle that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei): pastoral care, support and advocacy . Let’s briefly look at each type of accompaniment.
Pastoral care with LGBTQ youth and young adults comes in a variety of ways. However, one of the most basic and obvious ways is to simply be a welcoming presence as a Christian community. The accompanier would be prudent to provide a presence of openness and a non-judgmental posture.
Another way to demonstrate pastoral care is create a personal checklist, such as examining your own assumptions and biases regarding LGBTQ young people; being informed about advocacy programs, books, pastoral counselors and other issues pertaining to LGBTQ youth and young adults; being self-aware of your own attitudes, prejudices, responses and limitations concerning LGBTQ young people; and demonstrating respect and dignity to the LGBTQ young person who sits across from you.
Supporting LGBTQ folks is a little more difficult than pastoral care. Support means cultivating new conversations in our ministries and churches centered on LGBTQ folks and their issues and concerns, not necessarily the church’s concerns. Support also means pastoral ministers (ordained and lay) need to help parents who are struggling with their teen’s gender and sexuality.
Supportive parents are also on a journey with their youth or young adult in this new and uncharted territory. Support from parishes and congregations might require listening sessions for families.
This includes coping with potential family rejection, addressing conflict between parents and other family members, helping shift negative family narratives to positive stories, providing hurting young people with family support such as pastoral counseling and family counseling, and creating a new support system for family and friends to help sustain lasting and loving relationships with the LGBTQ young person.
Advocacy with LGBTQ young people is the most difficult to authentically master for most Christian communities. Surely, advocacy with LGBTQ young people always involves access to competent adult role models and mentors who will accompany young people in their human formation with forthright dialogue and critical discussion.
Beyond robust dialogue and conversation, communities would be wise to engage in authentic social activism and advocacy. Advocacy is part of the social justice work of Christianity, which seeks fair and equal treatment of all human beings in significant social, economic, political and sexual issues .
Social activism has several layers of involvement. Social activism may simply be attending a meeting on LGBTQ awareness, or maybe it means encouraging your parish to host a transgender awareness seminar. A meeting that sparks local grassroots efforts is all part of low-stakes social activism.
Another level of social activism is encouraging a congregation to print a six- or eight-week column in the parish bulletin regarding LGBTQ rights, which address various aspects and concerns of LGBTQ folks. Conversely, social activism could be something larger that advocates for transgender rights and equality and helps to move local, state and federal legislation, becoming a catalyst to support large-scale change. Again, there are levels of social activism to offer advocacy for LGBTQ young people.
Accompaniment with LGBTQ young people is a critical growth vehicle for their overall spiritual, pastoral and sexual development. It might be important to keep in mind that accompaniment is good mentoring, and that a good mentor passes along more than just a listening ear. The accompanier actually helps the LGBTQ young person navigate their situation in life and grow in holiness with guidance and support.
Those who accompany LGBTQ youth and young adults, whether in a parish or school setting, utilize accompaniment as an evocative method of helping young people. Like all good ministry, accompaniment is a relational ministry that cultivates Christian discipleship.
 Arthur David Canales, “Pope Francis’ Theology of Young People: The Impact it Will Have for Catholic Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the United States.” Journal of Youth Ministry, vol. 19, no. 1 (2021): 100.
 Ellen D.B. Riggle & Sharon S. Rotosky, A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-Being (Lanham, MD: Rowman, & Littlefield, 2013), 111.
 Colleen Campbell and Thomas Carani, The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church (Washington, DC: Catholic Apostolate Center, 2019), 15.
 For youth and young adults, witnessing means being part of the activities of the parish, being an active member of the congregation, and participating in community prayer and worship opportunities. Witnessing is living as a Christian disciple that hopefully inspires others to also witness their faith as missionary disciples.
 Mariette Martineau, “Evangelization of Youth.” In Thomas East edits, Leadership for Catholic Youth Ministry: A Comprehensive Resource, 213-233 (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2011), 215 & 227.
 Campbell and Carani, 17.
 Campbell and Carani, 88.
 Jozef D. Zalot and Benedict Guevin, Catholic Ethics in Today’s World, Revised Edition (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2011) 47.