St. John, West Toronto has hired a youth minister whose job includes reaching out to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) young people. The church received a $26,870 grant from the diocese’s Our Faith-Our Hope campaign to create the position.
The Rev. Samantha Caravan, incumbent, says the outreach initiative is an extension of the church’s passion for social justice. The church has many gay and lesbian members and a long history of advocating for equality.
“We know that LGBTQ youth do not have an easy walk of it in high school, so that’s what we set out to do: create a space for them to explore the possibility of faith in their lives,” she says.
The church has hired Cormac Culkeen, a member of the LGBTQ community. They have helped to start a “queer Eucharist” at the church. (The word “queer” is an increasingly common and acceptable term used by young people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.)
The monthly service is led by LGBTQ people and their supporters and is open to everyone. Cormac Culkeen is hoping that it can be a place where the youth not only connect with God but with each other and the wider church. “It’s a moment where we can celebrate our contributions to the church and say, ‘What is it about us that’s different and why does that enrich the church?’”
They say gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of all ages have a great deal to offer the church, particularly through their stories of resilience in the face of rejection and exile. “I think the presence of queer people in the church can tell us a lot about God,” they say. “We show that faith is persistent and resilient. If faith was easy to shake, none of us would be here. Or if being a welcoming community was the only compelling part about a Christian community, there wouldn’t be LGBTQ Christians. But the thing is, the Gospel is compelling and God’s connection to us is compelling.”
In addition to the Eucharist, Cormac has started to create networks among LGBTQ youth in the parish and the wider community. They have led a workshop at a local school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group and is developing programs that are specific to the needs to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth.
They understand the rejection and isolation that many young LGBTQ Christians feel. They had to leave her job as a youth worker in another denomination when they came out of the closet. “When I was growing up, I didn’t know any queer or trans Christians. Being queer and Christian didn’t go very well together. It was like oil and water.”
They say their life has come full circle at St. John’s. In addition to their job, they were confirmed there last May and is a member of the congregation. “I think it’s where I’m supposed to be,” they say. “I enjoy the work and connecting with the kids and challenging them and myself with notions of what’s possible.”
Although their ministry is still in its early stages, they hope it will become a beacon to others. “I hope it shines not just for not just our diocese and Anglicans but it becomes an example of what a new relationship could be, a new story. I’m hoping that this is a seed of a new story. I’d love it to be the case one day that stories of exile and return aren’t typical of Christian people who are part of LGBTQ communities. I think we can do better than that. We can start to have stories that are about an integrity and wholeness, where there isn’t a rupture when a kid comes out or when a kid discovers for themselves that they’re transgender, when there isn’t a rupture for their families and faith communities. What if it was a beautiful story from start to finish? What if heartbreak and strife weren’t a part of that story?”
They ask Anglican to pray for all LGBTQ youth. “We need to become a church that actively prays for queer youth, not they will be changed but that they will be loved and safe and well. If we as a church start to intercede for that, we as Christian people will also be changed.”