Chastity and Same-Sex Attraction
James Parker FAITH MAGAZINE March-April 2013
James Parker, facilitator of the London Chapter of EnCourage, gives an insight into the aims, ideals and work of EnCourage in supporting people who experience same-sex attraction. EnCourage is a part of Courage International (couragerc.net), a ministry of the Catholic Church which ministers to persons with same-sex attraction and their loved ones.
Five Goals of EnCourage
1. Live chaste lives in accordance with the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. (Chastity)
2. Dedicate one's life to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. (Prayer and Dedication)
3. Foster a spirit of fellowship in which all may share thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone. (Fellowship)
4. Be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and in doing so provide encouragement to one another in forming and sustaining them. (Support)
5. Live lives that may serve as good examples to others. (Good Example/Role Model)
Looking at the Western Church of the 21st century, you would think it was preoccupied with the topic of same-sex relationships. Maybe you wouldn't be far wrong. Never before has the need been so great for the people of God to provide spiritual and truly fraternal support for persons who experience differing degrees of same-sex attraction or gender uncertainty. The Church needs to be the place where truth can be looked in the eye without fear and without a person being pigeon-holed or stereotyped because of what they might, or indeed might not, feel. It is for this reason that the Church, out of great love and wisdom, rejects contemporary labels such as "homosexual", "gay" and "queer" while taking very seriously someone's sexual attractions.
More than 30 years ago, Cardinal Cooke of New York saw the need to provide a setting where Catholics, their families and friends, plus any interested others, could gather in confidence and safely address questions on human sexuality in a setting of prayer and celebration of the Sacraments while remaining wholly rooted in the mainstream Church. And so Courage was born, a spiritual and fraternal support group of Catholic lay men and women who aspire to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Courage, currently known as EnCourage in Britain, but soon to change its name to Courage in union with the international Catholic apostolate, has been in operation for more than 20 years across the country.
What does EnCourage offer? We meet in the evening at least twice a month as a group in the centre of London and sometimes have a midweek celebration of the Mass. More groups are being set up across the country as priests request help to deal with the growing pastoral issues they are being presented with.
With more parents of children with same-sex attractions wanting support we have begun a system to help them to be in touch with one another. We are beginning a women's group, a group for married men and another for young adults. We have regular retreat days and social events and welcome others who do not experience same-sex attraction or gender uncertainty but who share our vision, values and goals. We also help the clergy to understand more deeply the labyrinth that same-sex attraction and gender uncertainty can be.
Above all, we keep returning to the truth that living chaste lives in accordance with the Catholic Church's teaching truly does bring about a deep joy and peace to the soul, whatever one's sexual attractions. We aspire to serve as good examples to others, being mindful of and witnessing to the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but also necessary as Christians.
There is a strong sense of genuine companionship and healthy intimacy among those who attend. Our gatherings are made up of people of every age and from every continent, as well as others from different denominations and occasionally different faiths. We also enjoy strong relationships with other Courage chapters across the world. Whatever same-sex attraction or gender uncertainty a person may experience, whether outright or only even very slightly, EnCourage seeks to provide a safe pastoral place where each story is listened to, heard and understood.
We place no expectations upon a person but merely hold each individual in a place of prayer and genuine support wherever they are at on their journey. In his recent visit to the London group, Archbishop Vincent Nichols praised those present for their commitment and said that "many will be encouraged by the example that the group will give."
Above all we are about deeply respecting and honouring one another. We don't demand or expect change, yet this often takes place as a gradual unseen process and looks different for every individual once a significant spiritual walk with Christ begins to take root. Some people attend EnCourage never having practised sexually. Others have practised for years but sense there genuinely has to be more to life. Some attend while still in short-term or even long-term partnerships, desiring a safe place to assess where they are at and to ask some deeper questions.
Above all, the group is very much a hospital for sinners rather than a hotel for saints. And yet the call remains the same: to be holy and chaste before God, however often, much or little we may fall into sinful patterns of behaviour.
Aside from offering support to individuals only just beginning to discuss their sexual attractions, EnCourage seeks to provide space for those who have already identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and who wish to explore moving beyond a socio-political mindset to an eternal perspective rooted in their true identity in Christ.
More and more people are beginning to see this as a second and more significant and life-giving "coming out". This often leads to them taking their rightful place alongside the thousands of others who, week in and week out, stand on our sanctuaries and in our pews and offer their challenging same-sex attractions and temptations to the Lord along with everyone else's problems and struggles.
With genuine love and understanding, and without fear or prejudice, that is what EnCourage seeks to help individuals achieve. But then again, isn't that what the Church has always been about?
If you want to know more about EnCourage or its goals, visit http://couragerc.net/, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 077 9921 6623.