R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses!

News out this morning is that the regular twice monthly masses with a particular outreach to gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends, popularly but incorrectly known as the Soho “gay Masses”, will be moving out of their present home in Warwick Street, and relocating to a new home at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the well-known Jesuit parish in Farm Street.  For many members of the congregation, the news will be received with deep sadness, and inversely, the few but vocal opponents of these Masses will be jubilant, seeing it as a sign of their supposed victory. Both responses could be short-sighted and misplaced.

In this and other monarchies, news of the death of a reigning king or queen is typically received with the standard response, “The queen is dead. Long live the king/queen”. I suggest that for the Soho Masses congregation, that could be a more appropriate response, than simply one of grief. Our congregation is emphatically not being “shut down”, as the opponents will claim, but simply being relocated. With that relocation will come significant opportunities for further growth and expansion – just as occurred with our earlier moves, from Camden to St Anne’s, and later from St Anne’s to Warwick Street. As one who was involved in the original discussions over that earlier move from Dean St to our present home, I want to reflect here on just what it is that we lost in that move – and what we gained. From that, we could more easily reflect on what we might be losing, and gaining, in the next phase of our evolution.

The key, I think, lies in that little word “congregation”.  What we lost was undoubtedly a degree of independence, of being somehow swallowed up by the Catholic establishment. Since the move, I often heard a sense of nostalgia, at having lost that sense of being somehow “on the edge”. But the biggest asset we had was never that independence, or our premises, but simply ourselves, as a strong and vigorous congregation. During the often frank conversations between ourselves about the value and potential risks of the proposed move to Warwick Street, it was observed that as long as we retained our congregation, we would continue to flourish So it proved, and flourish we have.

In retrospect, we can see that at St Anne’s, we were already pushing against our limits. We were in effect meeting for not much more than just two Masses a month, the space was comfortable but could not have accommodated any increase in numbers, and the congregation consisted overwhelmingly of older, White men. Since the move, the transformation has been astonishing. Numbers have doubled, and the degree of active participation has simultaneously increased. We are now far more diverse in age, ethnicity and gender balance, and offer far, far more than just two Masses a month, with a steadily expanding range of support groups and activities, social and spiritual, outside of the Masses themselves. The SMPC has been considering some possible ways of extending these still further.  We have identified a need, for instance, to provide for an RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), and an obvious need for structures for people to discuss and share their experience of faith and sexuality in a more structured, private setting than informally over refreshments after Mass.

But once again, we are pushing at the limits of what is possible in our present home.  In purely physical terms, the basement space where we serve refreshments is becoming increasingly unsuitable: crowded, not easily accessible and with poor toilet facilities. It is at present extremely well patronized even so, filling a vitally important part of the overall experience, but could scarcely cope with any further increase in numbers. Accommodating the need for additional activities as discussed above, would also be difficult (even if just about manageable). With a move to Farm Street, which has extensive physical and spiritual resources already in place, these difficulties will largely disappear. The parish has extensive meeting rooms, a far superior hall for after Mass refreshments and conversation, and existing structures for faith sharing and spiritual growth, which could be easily extended to meet our needs.

It is true that there will, inevitably, be a loss of independence: but therein could also be a new benefit. The downside of independence, is the danger of hiding in a gay ghetto. I am increasingly convinced that one of the major challenges facing the LGBT Catholic community, is that of achieving visibility in the wider Church, and engaging openly and honestly with others. I have myself become heavily active in my local parish in a small, deeply conservative (and Conservative) country town – and have found this experience of open and honest engagement richly rewarding. By merging our activities into an existing, strong parish, we will have the opportunity to meet with and engage other Catholics, exposing them to our particular difficulties – and listening also to theirs.

The real issue here is not simply one of a “gay Mass”, but of the wider issue of effective  Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the “Soho Masses” may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.

When we moved from St Anne’s to Warwick Street, we did not “end” the Soho Masses, but entered a new phase – one which proved, despite some reservations and misgivings, a source of growth for the congregation. As we move from Warwick Street to Farm Street, this too will not “end” the Soho Masses (except in name), but will simply mark a new phase, and probably a further period of growth for our present congregation.

R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses LGBT Catholic ministry!

(For the full text of Archbishop Nichols’ letter to the Warwick Street congregation, see here).

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17 comments for “R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses!

  1. January 2, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    The ‘few but vocal opponents….’. We aren’t few and we have mainly been very discreet. It wasn’t the street protesters alone who did this but Bless them especially for their brave efforts.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      No, not few in number, but certainly in proportion of the church as a whole. When I discuss the Masses and my own activities (as I regularly do) in the very conservative parish where I live in a country area of South West, deep blue Surrey, I receive strong encouragement and support. In previous parishes where I have worshiped in the UK and in South Africa,I have never experienced a moment’s hostility or a hint negative feeling towards me as an openly partnered gay man. The evidence from empirical research is that most ordinary Catholics do not even see same – sex relationships as a matter of morality at all – just as most married Catholics, or committed and loving heterosexual couples do not see the Vatican doctrines on contraception or cohabitation as a serious impediment to taking their own decisions on these matters, in conscience.

      It is true that for many of our opponents, the objection is simply to us holding masses for the LGBT community specifically. I can assure that, that for many of us, we share the same objections. Much as there is value in creating a safe space where we know we need not feel threatened or judged, there are also very real dangers in subsiding into a gay ghetto. My belief is that it time for our congregation, and other LGBT faith groups, to move beyond simply being support groups and safe spaces, and become instead vehicles for real spiritual and psychological growth and healing, secure in our faith as well as in our personal sexual or gender identities – whatever they are.

      It is for this reason, that the more I think of this development, the more optimistic I become about its potential.

  2. Hilary White
    January 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    What I wondered is whether you anticipate that the Jesuits will be offering Masses for your community as part of the ongoing pastoral care the archbishop mentioned in his letter.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for the question, Hilary. It’s good to hear from you here (For the benefit of other readers – Hilary is from the website, Lifesite News, which you may already know of)
      I have no way of guessing the details of what will happen. However, in one important respect, there is no need to guess. We know from Archbishop Nichol’s statement that we will, from the beginning of Lent, be worshiping at the 6:15 Mass at Farm Street – which, as can be seen at their website, is an existing feature of their regular Sunday Mass program. It is clear therefore, that we will be worshiping as part of a a larger parish community – who, I am convinced, will give us a warm and valued welcome.

      It is also clear from the statement that we will no longer be responsible for planning the details of the Masses, which will be left in the very capable hands of the Jesuit parish team. This will leave us free to concentrate on the other part of our present activities – the strengthening and further development of a vigorous pastoral program of retreats, days of reflection, support groups and small discussion / faith – sharing groups and the like. These are issues we have already been developing – but would like to expand still further. A base in an existing strong parish base will in addition, mean in effect that our community will more easily be able to celebrate Mass together weekly, and not just twice a month.

  3. January 2, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Was this done with consultation? It seems not. You are putting the best reading on a bad situation, but I now wish there were some kind of a reception ordinariate in the CoE for disaffected Catholics.

    Above all, give no more money in any kind to RC parishes or dioceses.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      Certainly, I am putting the best reading I can on it – with good reason. The “reading” we put on it will directly affect who the community responds. How they respond, will determine the effect. If we simply throw up our hands and walk away in anger, then the Masses will indeed be effectively “ended”, and our foes will have won. If on the other hand, we move ahead and deal with this constructively, it could become not an end, but the start, in Archbishop Nichol’s words, of a new phase – and potentially a more constructive, one of expansion, in activities and (in time) even in geographic extent, as I will elaborate in future posts.

  4. Martin
    January 2, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    A degree of confidential consultation around this took place over the past month.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      A very limited degree of “consultation”, Martin – I’m not sure that I would dignify it with that word (it certainly did not amount to anything like negotiation). But there was certainly a small degree of very discreet communication.

  5. Michael Hayes
    January 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Good afternoon, I would appreciate it if you would let me have the full text of Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ letter – referred to at the end of your article (see below) – I have clicked on the “see here” link but it says “not found” and I have searched elsewhere and can’t find it. Thank you, from Michael.
    http://queeringthechurch.com/2013/01/02/r-i-p-soho-masses-long-live-soho-masses/ (accessed 03.01.2012)
    R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long LiveLGBT Catholic ministry!
    (For the full text of Archbishop Nichols’ letter to the Warwick Street congregation, see here).

    • January 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Apologies for the link not working. After I originally published it, and placed the link in later posts, I was asked to take it down, as it was supposed to be confidential to the members of the organizing team until it is read on Sunday. So, I had no choice but to take it down. For more information, write to me directly – terence@queerchurch.com

  6. January 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    You say – ‘No, not few in number, but certainly in proportion of the church as a whole. When I discuss the Masses and my own activities (as I regularly do) in the very conservative parish where I live in a country area of South West, deep blue Surrey, I receive strong encouragement and support. In previous parishes where I have worshiped in the UK and in South Africa,I have never experienced a moment’s hostility or a hint negative feeling towards me as an openly partnered gay man. The evidence from empirical research is that most ordinary Catholics do not even see same – sex relationships as a matter of morality at all – just as most married Catholics, or committed and loving heterosexual couples do not see the Vatican doctrines on contraception or cohabitation as a serious impediment to taking their own decisions on these matters, in conscience’.

    So what are you complaining about? Doesn’t make any sense to me, if most Catholics approve, what on earth do you want with ‘special’ Masses? How do you know what ‘most Catholics’ think about unnatural physical relations? The truth – There are Catholics and there are ‘catholics’, the former TRY to be obedient children of Christ’s only Church, the latter defy the Church and her teachings and are in great spiritual peril no matter what logical gymnastics they use in an effort to deny the fact.

  7. Rat-biter
    January 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    The “Catholic Herald” (the English CH, for the info of your readers from beyond the UK) is…unhappy, to say the least. Comments are now closed, after 71 posts, for no reason I can see: to stop gay Catholics answering, maybe ? Maybe that suspicion is unfair – or maybe it’s bang on. Not much sign there of that “respect” the CCC is so keen on.

    What is so odd is that, when the re-location from Soho became news on the CH site, I posted a couple of links from this site to show the Abp. had not ended the Masses being offered for gay Catholics – yet the article contains expression of surprise that the Masses are not over.

    Here’s the link, for any one interested:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/01/09/have-the-soho-masses-really-been-stopped-their-organisers-are-delighted-they-have-been-put-in-charge-of-the-new-regime-and-are-bent-on-growth/

    Another angle on the story, is that “the evul gayz” are being given a nice Church by the Abp, whereas the Ordinariate for Anglican converts, who now have the Soho Church, are being “done down” in some mysterious way, showing that Vinny is (of course) pro-gay & anti-Ordinariate. This story is still developing, from the looks of things, with gayz/librulz/other horrid people & the Abp as the wolves, the Ordinariate and so-called “true Catholics” (TM) as the poor persecuted lambs.

    From the CH article:

    “Have we — have I — been taken in by the “stopping” of the Soho Masses? Are they simply being moved across town, and given improved facilities and greater frequency? That is the real question. I would, of course, like an answer to it from some authoritative person in the Westminster archdiocese though I don’t suppose I will ever get one.”

    ## That is simply weird. I posted a link to the Abp.’s decision, from this site. No-one has been “taken in”, and the Abp himself ( a pretty “authoritative person”, surely) says that, & why, the move is occurring. If some Catholics can’t stand gay people, so be it – but they might at least bother to read the links they are given. They have only themselves to blame if they ignore the info they want when it is given (before they even ask for it, at that).

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