A panel discussion"Spirituality and Spaghetti: An LGBTQA Experience," featuring leaders from diverse religious and spiritual groupstook place June 19 at Wesley United Methodist Church (UMC) in Cicero. About 25 people attended this inaugural event for the newly formed LGBTQA youth ministry group at Wesley UMC.
Youth leaders Katya Mazon of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Cesar Robles Santacruz of Morton College's Gay-Straight Alliance served as the event moderators. Panelists included Noemi Mendoza of Espiritualidad Latina: A Latina Lesbian Spiritual Community, Pastor Julie Boleyn of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Unity Lutheran Church of Berwyn, Pastor Lois McCullen Parr of Broadway United Methodist Church, and Pastor Douglas Asbury of Riverside United Methodist Church.
Following an introduction by Alicia Vega, Wesley UMC youth ministry coordinator, and remarks by Pastor Cathryn Caliendo of Wesley UMC; the panelists answered a number of questions Mazon and Santacruz posed.
Panelists were asked about how they see LGBTQ youth being affected by religion both positively and negatively. McCullen Parr said she believes that the church has blood on its hands. "The dominant voice of religion in the public sphere in the United States is a conservative religious voice that sends a message about what the bible says and that does damage," said McCullen Parr.
Mazon followed up with how can religious institutions make things better. Mendoza suggested using the Bible as a welcoming tool while Asbury noted the Marin Foundation's work building bridges between the LGBTQ community and the church. McCullen Parr said that having a rainbow sign or flag in front of a church sends a welcoming message to potential parishioners.
Santacruz asked how the panelists' churches have become more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals. McCullen Parr spoke about how the location of her church lends itself to LGBTQ ministry since the church is in the Lakeview neighborhood. The mission statement of Broadway UMC is read at the beginning of each service, McCullen Parr noted, and that statement is fully inclusive of all individuals.
Asbury, an openly gay man, shared that his church became a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network prior to his arrival and when he was installed as the new pastor some didn't know he was gay; however, when they found out, it wasn't as issue. Boleyn (the first lesbian to be ordained in the Greater Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) spoke about the non-reaction that she got when people found out she was a lesbian and how her church is working to re-orient themselves to their neighborhood.
Other questions focused on identity and religion and if they see any shifts in the relationship between the LGBTQ community and religion.
During the Q&A, the panel was asked about how a sex-positive culture can be created since most of the culture is sex-negative; how to get straight people involved with LGBTQ youth ministries; how to focus energies towards justice; and what tips and suggestions they might have for this new ministry.
McCullen Parr said that the youth ministry at Broadway UMC doesn't have Bible studies while Asbury noted that Wesley UMC has to be clear about their program's mission and goals.
The goal of "LGBTQA Youth Ministries: Building Future Leadership for Cicero and Surrounding Communities" is to engage LGBTQA youth in leadership development, service learning, and job training while enhancing spiritual development and self-love, Vega explained.
Vega noted that youth leaders (three to five will be hired) must be 16-21 years old, show a commitment and passion for LGBTQA community activities, be willing to participate in social-justice activities, attend leadership training activities on several Friday evenings and other days as assigned, and want to have fun while learning and being a leader and live in or near Cicero.
Sponsors for the event included Corazon Community Services, Project VIDA: RAICES and Entre Familia: PFLAG En Espanol.
To apply for one of the paid youth leadership positions, visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/NJNJVQR. The application deadline is July 12.