Support ministry focuses on helping family members offer Christ-like witness to loved ones, build healthy relationships based on truth, trust
DETROIT — If there’s a way to describe the Church’s approach to ministering and teaching about the beauty of marriage, human sexuality and chastity, it might be summed up in five words from Ephesians 4:15: “Live the truth in love.”
But for parents, friends, siblings and children of people who experience same-sex attraction, the pressures and sensitivities of daily life can make it challenging to live and effectively witness to the truth of the Gospel.
Since 1980, Courage, the Church’s apostolate to those with same-sex attraction seeking to live chaste and holy lives, has helped men and women discover and live the truth and beauty of God’s revealed plan for human sexuality.
A lesser known, but just as important partner ministry, called EnCourage, offers prayerful support and spiritual assistance for family members and friends who might find themselves at a loss for how to lovingly approach the delicate subject — especially when a family member doesn’t share the Church’s views.
Although the Archdiocese of Detroit has had an active Courage chapter for some time, the closest EnCourage meetings were held in the Diocese of Lansing — until now.
Starting Jan. 8, the archdiocese will begin offering a monthly EnCourage support group to help family and friends of those experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria to better understand their loved ones’ experiences and foster healthy relationships while bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel and Christ’s self-sacrificial love.
“Men and women who have same-sex attraction often feel isolated, and often don't experience that kind of love,” said Fr. Stephen Pullis, who will serve as chaplain for the Detroit EnCourage chapter. “And we know that parents and spouses and siblings and children at times need some help to show that kind of love to those in their lives.”
EnCourage meetings will help families find support and grow in prayer as they commit to living Catholic teaching about chastity, sexuality and marriage, Fr. Pullis said.
“It's not meant to be a place where all of those issues are debated in our culture or even in the Church. It’s meant to be a place where those who are committed to living the truth of the Gospel in this way can do that together,” Fr. Pullis said.
Meetings will be confidential, with times and locations not widely publicized. Those interested in attending may contact (313) 237-5900 or email [email protected].
In the Lansing diocese, EnCourage has served as a spiritual support for families — many from the Archdiocese of Detroit — since the 1990s.
David and Barb (whose names Detroit Catholic has changed at their request) joined the Lansing diocese’s EnCourage chapter about five years ago after their adult son told them he was in a same-sex relationship. The couple didn’t know how to reconcile their son’s news — and their love for him — with their deeply held Catholic faith. Initially, they reacted emotionally.
“We had never been counseled on how to react to our child's same-sex attraction, and I responded in a very, very angry way,” which caused a lot of hurt and distrust in the family, including with the couple’s other children, David told Detroit Catholic. “Had we been prepared for how to respond, we might not have alienated our children to that point.”
David said the couple knew basic Catholic teaching — that the Church calls people to love those with same-sex attraction while not affirming individuals in acting upon those feelings — but struggled with how to witness that truth to others in a loving, non-confrontational way.
After searching for spiritual support and advice, the couple found EnCourage. Through regular meetings with a chaplain and other families in similar situations, they learned how to prayerfully navigate complex situations and offer love and support in a healthy, authentically Catholic way.
After not speaking with their son for a year or two, relationships were eventually mended, but the couple wrestled with practical questions about their child’s same-sex relationship, Barb said.
“We had a lot of questions. What if they come to our house and want to stay overnight? What do we do?” Barb said. “How do we show our love while at the same time remaining true to our faith?”
The couple also has benefitted from the support of other EnCourage families, knowing they aren’t alone, Barb said.
“This has brought us much closer to God,” Barb said. “We’ve learned to depend on our faith through these struggles, and we’ve learned a lot about our faith.”
The launch of the Detroit EnCourage chapter fulfills a promise by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron to bolster the archdiocese’s resources for individuals experiencing same-sex attraction and their families.
In a 2019 pastoral note, “Imitating Christ’s Charity and Chastity,” on ministry to those with same-sex attraction, Archbishop Vigneron wrote that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality — and human sexuality in general — is often distorted in secular culture as something negative, when the truth is that God’s plan reveals a love much deeper.
“At a time when many have been conditioned to think about the Catholic Church in terms of what she stands against, we must insist upon the truth that the Gospel is first and fundamentally about God’s ‘yes’ to loving and saving us, and about our call to say ‘yes’ to him in return,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “It is particularly important to insist upon this truth when discussing the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, and perhaps most especially today when discussing the Church’s teaching concerning homosexuality.”
Fr. Pullis said EnCourage meetings will focus on helping families understand and show love in a Christ-like fashion, affirming the person while remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel.
“The Church offers love by showing forth Jesus, and no one loved more perfectly than Jesus,” Fr. Pullis said. “That love is not cheap; it cost him his life. And the way it costs us is by being his disciples, by living in the truth of his love and accepting the Gospel, which is the path to salvation.”