Pride Ministries: Responding to the Need for New Forms of Evangelism
A paper presented for the Doctor of
Ministry Class Revitalizing Church and Community M-618, Professor Deborah J. Kapp, Written
by Stuart D. Smith, at McCormick Theological Seminary
How do communities of faith which ascribe
to progressive, nontraditional values and are convinced that these values are part of an
evangelistic imperative create outreach that reflects a liberation understanding of
evangelism? Specifically how do congregations which believe in the inclusion of sexual
minority persons declare the gospel with integrity to those persons in the larger
community who know nothing about radically inclusive theologies?
This paper chronicles the formation of Café
Pride as a result of one of the specific dynamics challenging my community and the
formation of Pride Ministries, to serve as an administrative parent or umbrella
organization over Café Pride. Pride Ministries is an attempt to address the needs of
congregations which seek new ways of doing progressive evangelism by providing resources,
consultation, and a working example of radically inclusive evangelism.
The Initial Response to a Community Dynamic
Café Pride began as a result of what Holland and
Henriot call the "Pastoral Circle" (1983 p. 8). For over nine years, I had
ministered in the main concentration of Chicago's gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered
community (hereinafter generically called the "sexual minority community). This area
is known in Chicago as the Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods or sometimes jokingly
as, "boystown." It is specifically the area bounded by Fullerton Parkway on the
south, Ashland Avenue on the west, Irving Park Road on the north, and Lake Michigan on the
east. My ministry had attempted to address the pastoral needs of adults and some youths
who, although not always economically distressed, had matured in an environment that
devalued and marginalized them by denying them equal legal protections, free association,
and access to religious community. These persons although occasionally high achievers in
many regards were often deeply wounded. I ministered from the position of a gay-friendly
ecumenical agency, which in turn was supported by several radically inclusive churches. My
"point of insertion" was to recognize the experience of the "poor and
oppressed" of this community. Much of my social analysis over the years has informed
me that the self-destructive behaviors I witnessed among gay and lesbian adults usually
stemmed directly from their feeling of unworthiness and marginalization as children and
young adults. Whether corporate lawyer or street hustler, these adults were scarred by the
self-hate they had absorbed almost with their mother's milk; consequently, not all the
poor and oppressed of this community were economically distressed.
Although I had little access to pre-adolescents
who might be forming destructive beliefs and attitudes, I occasionally had pastoral
relations with sexual minority youths who were just beginning to come to the attention of
law enforcement personnel and school officials as "problems." Once I worked past
the convenient middle-class assumption that these were just "bad kids" and began
to know some of them personally and to hear and see the world from their perspective, I
had to struggle with the pastoral/theological question of what the church should do or be
to counteract the system of teaching youths to hate themselves and become
self-destructive. It is not enough to be part of what my denomination calls a
"More-Light Church" (a gay-inclusive congregation) if the persons who would
benefit from the salvation that God's love has provided are not in the congregation or
aware of the jargon Presbyterians use to signal parish-level inclusion in the face of
The last straw for my pastoral "paralysis of
analysis" was the ejection of many of my younger parishioners from the one low-cost
hangout for sexual minority youths when that establishment, previously a coffeehouse,
received a liquor license and could no longer legally host persons under 21 years old.
Within a few weeks several of my young friends had been arrested or detained for hanging
out on the streets. They needed a place to be, to socialize, to laugh, and with no
commercial establishment welcoming them, the police determined that otherwise harmless
"hanging out" was loitering, panhandling, or a cover for prostitution.
Additionally for many of these youths, to be arrested or accused was the last barrier to
actually trying out some of these forbidden activities. "If they call me an outlaw, I
might as well be one." As a representative of the larger church witnessing this
situation, I felt a need to act. Theologically, it was "put up or shut up" time.
After several weeks of negotiations among several
secular agencies and two churches, on November 22, 1996, Café Pride first opened to serve
the neighborhood as a subsidized coffeehouse for sexual minority youths under 21 years
old. It was hosted by Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, encouraged by Lincoln Park
Presbyterian Church and "supported" by several secular agencies. Holy Covenant
became involved as they had become aware of the problems caused to several of their young
neighbors by the closing of the neighborhood's last cheap coffeehouse. Additionally, their
pastor, Bonnie Beckonchrist, and I had a social acquaintance that allowed us to share our
concerns informally and begin to formulate a response to the needs we perceived. She also
was well aware of the needs of sexual minority youths in this neighborhood.
Problems of Definition: Liberation Evangelism and Social Work
From the very beginning, because of the need to
make the "evangelistic ministry" palatable to secular agencies, the coffeehouse
was marketed as existing to serve several non-complementary ends. For some agencies Café
Pride was a way of keeping kids out of trouble with the police; for others it existed to
do AIDS/HIV education in a hard to reach population; for others it was
"protecting" youths from involvement with prostitution or drug running; and for
still others the coffeehouse was a source of referrals for homeless teens. Nearly all of
these secular purposes and ends seemed to be rooted in the idea that youth itself was a
pathology that needed to be fixed.
When secular, social service ends are mixed with
evangelistic outreach you have an unhealthy mix of techniques. Often social service is an
attempt to provide the designated "client" with appropriate material or
psychological resources. At best this kind of social service mates with a form of liberal
evangelism that gets stuck at repeating over and over "Jesus loves me!
This I know." Evangelism if understood from a framework of liberation
theology, addresses not merely lack of knowledge of God as in traditional orthodox
theology or a need to experience of God's love (in material or psychosocial ways) as in
liberal theology, but an acknowledgment of God's love for all creation and the
individual's connection to all the other "little ones [which] to him belong."
Traditional evangelism is about absolving guilt before an absolutist God. Liberal
evangelism is about overcoming ignorance of our relationship to God. Liberation evangelism
is about reconfiguring connections-an unhealthy desire to be connected to things and too
weak a desire to be authentically connected to brothers and sisters and to the rest of
creation. Dorothee Solle cites the example given by a black, woman, student pastor in
Nicaragua, "'Adam and Eve wanted to have more than others and so they ate the apple,
and that is covetousness. Sin is the immeasurable greed of people who want to possess
something and everything else follows from this desire to possess.'"(1990 p. 60).
If I have interpreted and applied Solle
correctly, liberation evangelism among marginalized persons is a process, not of attacking
pride, as Reinhold Niebuhr taught (1941 pp. 188-189), but of building pride. She
writes of feminist liberation theology specifically:
- The specifically feminine form of sin cannot be
paraphrased with terms like 'pride' or 'striving for power'. Women very often destroy
their 'being in the likeness of 'God', the fact that they are created in the image of God,
by obedience, self-denial and subjection to patriarchal role-models. So they do not become
human beings at all-in social psychology people talk of the child woman who will never
really grow up, and artificially keeps on being a little girl. . . .
Rather, we women are in danger of not developing any
pride, of never becoming independent, of constantly remaining within all too narrow
boundaries. (1990 pp. 66-67)
Solle continues citing Valerie Saiving's list of women's sins:
- 'Triviality, liability to distraction,
talkativeness, lack of concentration and dependence on others for one's own self
determination . . . Tolerance at the cost of standards . . . inability to respect the
limits of the private sphere . . ., sentimentality, love of gossip and mistrust of the
understanding-in short, underdevelopment or negation of the ego.' (Saiving, 1979 as quoted
in Solle, 1990 p. 67).
Evangelism among sexual minority persons, who all
too often have been taught to belittle the particular likeness of God in themselves, must
include fostering a sense of self that is "grown up" and mature. It is no
accident that the women's sins which Saiving lists are also, when taken together, the most
common parody of adult gay men. They describe less the feminine than the effeminate.
Evangelism among sexual minority persons is more than teaching that the penitent is loved
by God; it is teaching the penitent to grow up and honor herself or himself—to learn to
sing God's praises with one's own voice. Persons of many marginalized groups need to
experience what the New Testament Greek terms m e t a n o i a , often translated
repentance (literally "turning from" or "turning away"), not as
turning away from pride and rebellion to godly submission but as turning from shame and
rejection of God's creation in one's self to self acceptance and integration with
all God's good creation.
Crises and Adaptations
For a time Café Pride stood on its own as a
half-recognized part of my employing agency and a half-owned ministry of one congregation.
Other than the moral support of Pastor Beckonchrist and the invaluable staffing of Karen
Tompkins, one of their seminary students, the Holy Covenant congregation had little
knowledge or interest in the coffeehouse. Additionally Holy Covenant's building is rather
small and very heavily used. Often our use of the space overlapped with other programs or
conflicted with much needed rentals. On more than one weekend Café Pride was forced to
find another location in which to host its young patrons.
In July 1997, I left the employ of the agency
under which Café Pride had been developed, and shortly thereafter, Café Pride separated
itself from my employing agency. This was a painful but necessary separation as Café
Pride redefined itself and reclaimed its religious roots. At that time the coffeehouse
became a personal ministry of its staff and became more recognized by the Holy Covenant
This recognition was partially due to the crisis
caused when the United Methodists' Northern Illinois Conference "taxed" the
congregation for monies they were holding that had been raised for Café Pride. As
Ammerman points out, denominational structures can often damage innovative ministry rather
than encouraging it (1997 p. 331). Those of us staffing Café Pride immediately needed to
find a new fiscal agent for the coffeehouse. This crisis and the need to
"market" ourselves to another religious group forced us to develop a more
specific mission statement for Café Pride. The crisis also forced us to reevaluate our
place in the community and the potential for ministry we knew to be there.
July, August, and September were rough months. At
the time it was a horrible mess; in hindsight it was an experience that forced us to do
important, adaptive work (Heifetz, 1994 p. 69ff.). Our conclusions led us eventually to
form a new organization which could be our fiscal agent, oversee our operations, and
connect us more widely to potentially supportive congregations and to the community at
large. And in the short term our very fully "ripened" (Heifetz p. 116ff)
fiscal-agent crisis forced us to deepen our relationship with a congregation that had
previously been merely a supportive bystander-Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church.
Pride Ministries was founded as a result of hours
of "parking lot" conversations among Café Pride's staff, interested friends,
and my classmates in M-618. These conversations led to the following conclusions.
- There exists a need to do appropriate evangelism
in sexual minority communities particularly in the neighborhoods we had identified.
- Café Pride can effectively do ministry among only
one age group of sexual minority persons.
- Café Pride was already serving as what Peter
Hodgson (1988 p. 71) calls a "clearing of freedom." Hodgson's term comes from
the antebellum Black church and was later appropriated by the Woman Church and the
"feminist ecclesial vision." Slaves were willing to risk their lives to answer
the call within their souls to find a place where they could be free to worship, sing, and
laugh even if they could only reach that space in the dark of night and for only a few
- Many congregations recognize the need to reach out
to persons marginalized as a result of minority orientation but are ill equipped through
traditional models to provide appropriate outreach. These congregations could benefit from
those of us associated with Café Pride aggressively marketing ourselves as speakers and
consultants and/or publishing as experts in sexual minority, liberation evangelism.
- Café Pride could serve as a functioning model of
liberation evangelism and an example to interested congregations, not to be merely copied
but to inspire new thought.
As a result of these conversations initiated by
our attempts to adapt to our string of crises, the volunteer staff of Café Pride began to
approach local congregations and resource persons to create a broader
"self-sustaining" organization to manage Café Pride and address the other needs
we had observed. We would come to call this organization "Pride Ministries."
Implementation and Group Ministry
On August 30, I met with the mission committee of
Holy Covenant United Methodist Church to officially keep them abreast of the ministry of
what then was still only Café Pride. I specifically asked that they recognize it as a
ministry and keep it in their regular prayers. We discussed the possibility of Holy
Covenant holding two seats on a future Board of Directors. They agreed in principle but
candidly offered that they had no immediate prospects for the Board.
At the September 18, Session meeting of Lincoln
Park Presbyterian Church, I presented the concept of Pride Ministries and requested
several things, among them:
- That the session recognize that Pride
Ministries and Café Pride were ministries associated with that congregation and that they
be added as responsibilities to my Parish Associate covenant with Lincoln Park.
- That the session agree to become, at least
temporarily, the fiscal agent for Pride Ministries.
- That the session authorize me to recruit from the
congregation for two members for a future Board of Directors for Pride Ministries.
Following a lead from a casual conversation
between Pastor Beckonchrist and the pastor of Lake View Presbyterian Church, Joy Douglas
Strome, I began conversations with Joy about moving the Friday night meeting of Café
Pride to Lake View Church. That church has a more desirable space both because of its
location and because it was not so heavily booked with other programs. This led, on
October 8, to my meeting with Lake View's building committee and presenting the
possibility of renting Lake View's space for Café Pride's Halloween Party. This
presentation was successful and led in turn to my meeting with the session of Lake View on
October 22, at which time they agreed to recognize Café Pride not only as a
ministry but as their ministry.
It should be noted at this point that all during
this time Pride Ministries has been gaining allies. By the time I spoke to Lake View's
session, several elders had already researched the program, visited us in operation, and
promoted the ministry in a variety of "parking lot conversations. I have no idea of
all the lobbying that went on for this ministry, but I was far from alone in my efforts. I
am only able to report what I know about firsthand or have been told about.
At the first of the 1997-98 academic year, Karen
Tompkins, who had been one of Holy Covenant's seminarians the previous year and had in
that capacity staffed Café Pride, volunteered to staff Café Pride this year and to serve
as a community member of Pride Ministries Board of Directors. Karen served last year in
partial fulfillment of her field placement from Garrett Seminary. She continues to do
excellent work as a volunteer ministering among Café Pride's patrons. In the model we
have come to see as normative for Café Pride, she plays cards and board games with the
patrons and waits for the "teachable moment" or appropriate question from one of
our patrons to initiate conversations that have more pastoral content. She waits for the
patron to signal openness to conversation.
This academic year has also seen the addition of
Marilyn Nash and Jon Bassinger, students at McCormick Theological Seminary, to Café
Pride's volunteer staff. Marilyn and Jon are making valuable connections among our
regulars and helping us integrate new patrons. As occurs in any ministry, parishioners
discover themselves more comfortable talking with one staff member or another depending on
the issues at hand and the tone of any given evening. Despite the Apostle Paul's
directive, we cannot be all things to all people. Having a staff with widely different
ages and temperaments seems to be part of any success in this kind of outreach.
Another person who has been central to the life
of Café Pride and Pride Ministries is my partner, David Thomas. His temperament is unique
and has helped us connect with many youths who otherwise would have been too intimidated
by my clerical collar and the church setting. Additionally, since he was raised as a Roman
Catholic, he can communicate with the majority of our patrons and the concerns they have
both from their faith perspectives and from their fear of Protestants. David is also an
inveterate promoter and has helped us connect with a variety of persons within the larger
community who are essential to our finding funding and receiving the publicity that helps
youths discover that we're here.
I have been unwise to begin naming names here. I
cannot forget people like David's son, David Thomas, III who helped us put together a
business plan or Randy Deneen who has staffed the coffeehouse on evenings when we needed
another male adult and who has brought his Kellogg School of Business, marketing degree
into our promotional planning. Without a doubt this has not been a solo exercise but a
work of many hands.
A Summary of Our Adaptive Change
I believe the outline of this period has been:
- Identifying a need for broader sexual minority
outreach specifically youth outreach
- Maintaining a focus on the real problems not
intra-agency politics or denominational "taxation" formulas
- Creating an atmosphere where creative suggestions
can be verbalized; studied; and accepted, rejected, or adapted within a highly motivated
- Presenting our ideas to a wider public that has
the power to implement.
This pattern is analogous to "The Five
Strategic Principles of Leadership" identified by Heifetz
"1. Identify the adaptive challenge. . . .
2. Keep the level of distress within a tolerable
range for doing adaptive work. . . .
3. Focus attention on ripening issues and not on
stress-reducing distractions. . . .
4. Give the work back to the people, but at a
rate they can stand. . . .
5. Protect voices of leadership without
authority" (1994 p. 128).
The Board of Directors
Consequently, Pride Ministries came into being, a
ministry that would include Café Pride as a model and market those of us trained in our
particular understanding of liberation evangelism as consultants to other congregations.
After months of recruiting and preparing for our first meeting, on November 23, 1997 the
first Board Meeting of Pride Ministries convened itself and began the work of
administering monies we had received, and setting ground rules for our eventual
incorporation. They adopted the following statements with the proviso that they be
reexamined on a regular basis.
Pride Ministries' Vision/Mission Statement
"Pride Ministries is dedicated to the
proposition that the Good News of God's love is broader than any one denominational creed
or religious understanding. It is, therefore, not limited to service among any one type of
religious community. Pride Ministries is dedicated to the concept that the needs of all
persons transcend the merely material and include access to religious tradition, ritual,
community life, and opportunities to serve others."
"Therefore, Pride Ministries is a
religious organization that exists
- To provide assistance to religious communities
considering outreach among persons in their neighborhoods' sexual minority communities.
- To consult with religious communities designing or
redesigning sexual minority outreach programs or any type of radically inclusive ministry.
- To guide religious communities in the study of
urban ministry in general by leading guided street walks, by providing resource persons
for study groups (Sunday School classes, youth groups, or academic classes), by writing
study guides, and by offering more intensive consultation."
Café Pride's Mission Statement
"Café Pride is a religious outreach of
Pride Ministries that exists
- To provide sexual minority youths with a safe
space for fellowship with peers and to interact with adults who are integrated into the
- To challenge the exclusion which gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgendered youths often experience from religious communities and the
attendant spiritual alienation that many sexual minority persons experience.
- To offer the wider community an example of
In addition to the Board of Directors, we are
also in the process of forming a Promotions Board. This board will take responsibility for
raising community awareness and fundraising for Pride Ministries. As of this writing we
have scheduled a cabaret night fund-raiser with several local vocalists volunteering their
skills to this ministry.
Although some forms of evaluation have been going
on throughout this period, the formal, ongoing evaluation will be by the Board, which at
present is composed of
- Fred Braucher, elder at Lake View Presbyterian
Church and semi-retired psychologist
- Robert Guenther, elder at Lincoln Park
Presbyterian Church, and attorney
- Monna Ray, elder at Lincoln Park Presbyterian
Church and retired administrator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family
- Lonnie Silva, youth patron of Café Pride and
student at Loyola University
- Emily Stewart, youth patron of Café Pride and
high school student
- Joy Douglas Strome, pastor of Lake View
Presbyterian Church with extensive experience in suburban youth ministry
- Karen Tompkins, Café Pride volunteer staff,
former youth pastor in several United Methodist congregations, and currently a student at
Three other persons, two from Holy Covenant
United Methodist Church and one community member have been invited to serve on the board
but have not formally responded as of this writing. I hope to have these positions filled
by our next Board meeting on February 5, 1998.
Ultimately, however, the only useful evaluation
will be the long-term observation of the lives of the youths served by the coffeehouse and
others who find our work helpful. At this writing, I consider the ministry successful
because of the response we have received from those with power to act who helped us get
this far and from those youths who come back week after week. As one young woman said,
"Café Pride helps me keep my life from blowing apart. It releases pressures that
might [otherwise] get me in trouble."
When I did my required Clinical Pastoral
Education unit at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital, I was assigned to the child-psych
ward. One of my first patients was a teen so disturbed as to be non-verbal. I was fresh
from seminary and eager to do "real ministry." I wanted to use pastoral
interventions, words, and programs to "help" this young man. Instead the psych
staff asked me to play with Lego blocks with him.
In time I learned that healing from many of
life's spiritual and psychic wounds requires, not a program, a bibliographic resource, or
a sermon, but a safe space. A space in which to relax, a space in which to hear the voice
of God, and perhaps foremost a space in which to hear one's own voice. The youths in Café
Pride and the wider audiences we hope to reach through Pride Ministries do not need our
intervention to be loved by God. They do not need our structure to receive ministry. What
they need most is a space in which to heal themselves.
As I saw in traveling through this period of
adaptation and change, there are many folks who care about the dynamic challenges
addressed by this ministry. But they need an individual to focus the issues, keep them
attentive to those issues, provide some framework for addressing the issues (another safe
space) and adapt a new response to the original dynamic.
I have learned through this stage of the Pride
Ministries project that I hate the kind of vulnerability that adaptive change requires. I
have a tremendous fear of being wrong. I much prefer a position in a job or in any
relationship where someone else takes the lead and I can criticize from the rear. I'm
willing to work hard. I just don't like being in a position where my missteps are visible
I also have a great deal of passion for the
community God has called me to serve. I believe I am called to be a minister to those who
feel God's love leaves them out because they are different. Consequently, I am more
comfortable ministering among outcasts than among traditional, well-connected, mainstream,
This project has forced me to harness my passion
for the youths of my community to overcome my fear of being wrong. I believe that during
the last few weeks I have been able to care more about the program than my reputation or
my position. I have been forced into talking to conservative folks whom I would have
previously avoided about a ministry that exposed my own marginalization. The phrase,
"put your money where your mouth is" has come back to me frequently during the
last few months, not just as it applies to those in local churches or in the community
with money, or resources, but as it applies to my desire to evangelize my own community.
I've learned through this project that I can create a way to live out the call to
evangelize rather than just talk about it.
This project became a safe space for me to do
what I did not have the courage to by myself. Several times I heard myself saying to
groups that I didn't feel I'd convinced, "This is part of my D.Min. project for
McCormick. In other words, if you think this is too weird an idea, blame those seminary
folks, don't blame me. I found the space eventually to think of the D.Min. as assisting
my risk-taking not as a cover for it. I guess you could say that M-618 has been for me
what Lego blocks were for my friend in the psych ward. As he healed, he became able to
move beyond the pretend world that the brightly colored blocks provided, and on a good
day, so do I.
In the time since this course started, we've
broadened our little coffeehouse project to include the broader governance, outreach, and
fundraising capabilities that Pride Ministries now allows. We've worked with several
congregations and have a business plan to begin meeting with more congregations. We have a
Board of Directors in place and a Promotions Board partially recruited. We have a
fundraising benefit scheduled for February. We've raised $5000.00 in grant and donation
money and published two newsletters. Pride Ministries and Café Pride are up and running,
and as the spiritual says, "We've come this far by faith, . . . He hasn't failed us
- Ammerman, Nancy Tatom. 1997. Congregation &
Community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
- Heifetz, Ronald A. 1994. Leadership Without
Easy Answers. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press.
- Hodgson, Peter C. 1988. Revisioning the Church:
Ecclesial Freedom in the New Paradigm. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
- Holland, Joe and Peter Henriot, S.J. 1983. Social
Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice, rev. ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1941. The Nature and Destiny
of Man, I. New York: Nisbet.
- Sölle, Dorothee. 1990. Thinking About God: An
Introduction to Theology. London: SCM Press.