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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

Introduction

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 denominational hostility.

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:

Solle continues citing Valerie Saiving's list of women's sins:

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 congregation.

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.

  1. There exists a need to do appropriate evangelism in sexual minority communities particularly in the neighborhoods we had identified.
  2. Café Pride can effectively do ministry among only one age group of sexual minority persons.
  3. 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 hours.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. That the session agree to become, at least temporarily, the fiscal agent for Pride Ministries.
  3. 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.

Seminary Involvement

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.

Community Involvement

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:

  1. Identifying a need for broader sexual minority outreach specifically youth outreach
  2. Maintaining a focus on the real problems not intra-agency politics or denominational "taxation" formulas
  3. Creating an atmosphere where creative suggestions can be verbalized; studied; and accepted, rejected, or adapted within a highly motivated group
  4. 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

Café Pride's Mission Statement

"Café Pride is a religious outreach of Pride Ministries that exists

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.

Evaluation

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

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."

Personal Learning

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 to everyone.

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, middle-class Presbyterians.

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.

Conclusions

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 yet."

Sources Cited

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