By Sister Eileen Campbell, director of New Membership, Sisters of Mercy
This story is the second in a series about the Sisters of Mercy’s journey with the LGBTQ+ community
Ever since I can remember in any of my ministries, I’ve known LGBTQ+ people who are alienated from and harmed by our church and society. They have been deeply traumatized, and unable to be who they are without judgment, alienation and cruelty. It should go without saying that people who are being true to who they are as LGBTQ+ individuals shouldn’t be subjected to such treatment in any part of our society, let alone our church, but they are and their pain cries out for healing.
In the face of such pain, I am heartened that Sisters of Mercy have committed ourselves to education and dialogue on gender identity and sexual orientation. At a direction-setting international meeting in 2017, we declared in a formal statement that “oppressive social norms and systems call us in this moment to act…” We formed a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee and began engaging sisters, Mercy Associates, Companions in Mercy and others across the congregation.
For a time, I served as a listening presence and gave feedback on what I heard at the SOGI meetings. When a facilitator took over my role so I could focus on my ministry with new members, I immersed myself in every SOGI workshop or retreat that my schedule allowed. After all, if I was going to ask new members to engage with education around sexual orientation and gender identity issues, I needed to as well.
In the 1990s my awareness of LGBTQ+ people’s struggles were heightened. I was working with women and children who were homeless and soon realized that until you become friends with people who have experienced alienation because of their sexuality and gender, you have only intellectual concepts and information—not heartfelt understanding of their needs and challenges. I started going to New Ways Ministry conferences at that time and educating myself about my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
I am grateful that the Sisters of Mercy are now collectively educating ourselves about sexual orientation and gender identity. We are called to be understanding, compassionate and responsive.
Some of the educational materials that the SOGI committee has shared with sisters and others have been new information to me. For instance, I had never engaged with a transgender person before. Understanding the struggles of transgender people and who they are as people is something I am just beginning to learn. It is a gift.
SOGI works in three parallel paths: ongoing education, deepening understanding and responding with Mercy. It’s imperative for Mercy sisters and others to act in support of the LBBTQ+ community, to meet this community’s needs, to help educate our church community. We need to be able to do that. Thanks to SOGI, I know how to act in my ministry, in society—how to be an advocate. Being involved in this work gives me the education, understanding and ability to act. Because this is what the Sisters of Mercy are all about—upholding the innate dignity of every human being regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
Another important piece for me is that I’ve gotten to know our own sisters’ stories of their struggles and desires, including sisters in the LGBTQ+ community. I can support them. I am inspired by them. That’s been a gift, to get to know our own sisters. Hopefully more sisters will be free to speak their truth. I’m moved by their faithfulness, courage and determination, not only for themselves but also for others in society who are being ignored or judged. Without the SOGI committee following through on education, we wouldn’t have a forum for that.
Sisters of Mercy believe that we are called “to continual conversion” in supporting the God-given rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community.
We need to have the courage as sisters to engage each other about whatever it is that is blocking our embrace of LGBTQ+ persons. We need to challenge our own ideologies, broaden our understanding, and have the kind of dialogue that opens us to transformation and that calls our church leaders to do the same. This is hard work, and we can do it. We can change ignorance, prevent further harm and respect the dignity of each person. We can be welcoming and reverent towards each person.
If we as Sisters of Mercy are believers and doers, together we will create a path, a direction, and a concrete imperative so that, at our next international direction-setting gathering in 2023, we can proclaim with grace, “All things are possible with God.”