Coralville is an Iowa town with a population of a little over 22,000. That’s a very small town by many standards, but its fairly large by Iowa standards. It sits in the eastern part of the state, and is a suburb of Iowa City, which is home to the University of Iowa. St. Thomas More Catholic Church serves the residents of Coralville, plus many from Iowa City, including students at the university.
Iowa is a beautiful state of welcoming, smiling people. But it is thinly populated, which means the LGBTQ+ population is very thinly populated. It isn’t always easy for a gay youth or a lesbian woman or a non-binary grandfather to find community, or to find an LGBTQ+ community. I know – I grew up there in the 1970s and the 1980s in a town of 14,500. I was lonely, afraid, and utterly confused about a great many things, including what I was.
This is why I am so proud to feature St. Thomas More Parish in Gaudete. Its webpage says, in big letters, that it “strives to be a Parish for All Seasons. We are committed to being an inclusive parish, to help all, in whatever season of life, to grow closer to God through engaging liturgies, support of family life, strong religious education, and a keen sense of awareness.”
Father Charles Adam, the pastor of St. Thomas More, was rightfully proud to tell me about his Church’s LGBTQ+ outreach. In the Fall of 2019, it began a group study of “Building a Bridge” by James Martin, S.J. That study then led to a web presentation with Father Martin, including a question-and-answer session. Father Adam said that “one of the fruits of that discussion was a new welcome statement for the parish that was presented to and voted on by the Parish Pastoral Council, which is included in every weekend parish bulletin:
“St. Thomas More Welcomes You! Our parish community accepts people of all walks of life, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities. We are all on a spiritual journey, trying to find our way. All are welcome to join us!”
“Sexual orientations and gender identities!” From a parish in a quiet little town in Iowa!
How I wish such a welcome had existed when I was in college. But it was the 1980s, the AIDS crisis was at its height, no one in my world had anything positive to say about gays or queers, and I personally had no idea which end was up. The work of Father Adam, the Parish Pastoral Council, and the Church’s LGBTQ+ parishioners is a truly loving example of Christ’s message at work. They are to be lauded, held up as beacons of hope and bravery in a world where many are too quick to judge, to condemn, and to reject.
St. Thomas More Church holds a display of support for the LGBTQ+ community in June 2022 (Photo courtesy of Fr. Charles Adam)