Gaudete: celebrating welcoming parishes, schools and communities

Church of St. Ignatius Loyola

New York, N.Y.

Ellen Stillwell, Bruce Rameker / April 30, 2022

“LGBT Catholics and Friends” is a proud group of LGBT parishioners, parents, family and friends of LGBT people at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York. It is a parish ministry of, by and for LGBT sisters and brothers in Christ who love and support them. The ministry is inspired by the words of St. Ignatius: “God loves us, creates us, and wants to share life with us forever.”

The ministry creates a home where all LGBT people and those who love and support them are welcome, and where LGBT people are fully affirmed and celebrated. It is also strives to be a beacon of hope for people who have felt marginalized and cut off from the Church, inviting them to renewal through a ministry of reconciliation and justice. It fosters mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity between our parish (and other ministries in the parish) and the wider community on LGBT issues through education and dialogue.

Ellen Stillwell, Bruce Rameker, and a St. Ignatius Loyola parishioner.

There are three essential components to the group’s mission. First, it provides opportunities for spiritual enrichment—prayer groups, retreats, spiritual direction— with a focus on the needs and challenges of LGBT persons and their families and friends. Second, it builds community with regular meetings and special events – lectures and cultural and social gatherings, including a “spring fling” dance; a hockey game; a barbecue; a Q&A session with Michael O’Loughlin, author of “Hidden Mercy,” a book about the Church and AIDS crisis; a presentation by a German theologian on the recent activities of German Catholics in support of LGBT people. Finally, it strives to be “men and women for others” through volunteer opportunities, alone or in collaboration with other groups. In short, “LGBT Catholics and Friends” seeks to be an agent of change, combating personal and structural homophobia, and standing with LBGT persons, their families, friends and supporters.
A recent testimonial about “LGBT Catholics and Friends” from a bisexual married woman who recently joined the organization:
Jackie's testimonial

Jackie gives a parishioner a rainbow flag.

Hello everyone! My name is Jaclyn Weber-Hill. I am 32 years old and was born and born and raised in Queens, New York. I have an amazing wife, Frances, who I’ve been together with for 11 years and married to for 2 years. We share a three-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi; her name is Penelope and she’s the light of our lives.

Honestly, I never thought I’d be getting the space to tell my story in a Catholic setting, being part of the LGBTQ+ community. I came out at age 17 as a bisexual. A lot of my friends and family claimed they always knew about this part of me, but most had brushed it off as a phase because I was so young when I came to terms with my truth. I’ve always been a spiritual person, too: someone who accepted and loved God and all of Christianity

I find hope in a higher power, a moral compass that my parents and the Lord gave me. So, you can imagine that coming to terms with my bisexuality was jarring. Religion was such a large piece of my identity, but in coming out, I was doing something that was the polar opposite of what religion taught. I was told that a man and a woman are the very foundation of creation. It was the first time in my life I was breaking some “rules”.

I was lucky enough to not have to hide myself from my friends and family. They accepted me with open arms, regardless of who I wanted to love. However, I didn’t get away without conflict. Catholicism taught me that who I was did not belong. How could I not belong? I did all the right things. I went to church on Sundays, made all of my sacraments and kept God first in my life, so how could who I choose to love be such a problem? This was a crushing personal loss upon finding out such a pivotable piece of who I was.

My heart grew in possibility, but my religion felt limited and no longer served as the foundational comfort it once did. It began the journey through a lot of personal conflict. I’ve spent a lot of time in the back of churches during mass celebrations trying to have the best of both worlds without being my full self. I divided myself into two pieces. A life where I would be open, one the one hand, and a religion where I would practice as only half of who I am, on the other. For a very long time, I was convinced that I wouldn’t get into heaven because of my choice to marry a woman even if I was a person with the best of intentions.

And then 2020 happened and like everyone else my mental health hit an all-time low. I started therapy for the first time in a few years after being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I finally started to work through this fear of being half myself and speak out loud about it. My therapist suggested that I find an affirming church and start to marry the two parts of myself together. The therapist explained that God is love and I am made from that love so there was never a reason to be afraid of my choice to love my wife and live as my truest self. The thought of an affirming church felt foreign. I’ll be honest, I never wanted to step outside of a Catholic setting. Catholic guilt was a very real feeling and that was also a lot of what stalled my choice to have both. I went to Google and found a list of all the churches that were LGBT affirming. I went digging further and found our ministry.

I joined the Facebook group and just watched interactions from afar. I was impressed by the kindness in the group and I was intrigued to know more. I was already in virtual mass which had blown me away on its own, so I finally grew brave and decided to attend the first zoom meeting during the pandemic. I’ll admit I was initially intimidated to be interacting with all of you in real time. It was clear that you were a close-knit group and I was never great at being the new kid. I was nervous but excited to know more after the first meeting. What really made me feel at home was meeting Ellen Stilwell, one of the leaders of LGBT Catholics and Friends. When I came to help with the distribution of rainbow flags, I knew I was home. I went to mass and felt completely at ease like I knew everyone I met for a long time.

I want to close my time out with a thank you and how happy I am to be with you as my complete self. I am a happy and proud bisexual woman who’s married to the love of her life and I am also a child of God and a proud Catholic. Thanks to this ministry, I can now be both, and to me, that’s a beautiful gift to be given.

Ellen Stillwell

Ellen is a parishioner at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City and a leader in the parish's group LGBT Catholics and Friends.

Bruce Rameker

Bruce is a parishioner at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City and a leader in the parish's group LGBT Catholics and Friends.

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