Students from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions are enrolled in the course “Pastoral Care with LGBTQIA+ Persons” at Wesley Theological Seminary during its J-term/spring semester. Pastoral care is a vital part of what clergy do in the local church and other ministry settings, and this specific course prepares current and future clergy for providing pastoral care for LGBTQIA+ persons, their families, and their community.
The course offering comes in the wake of the Traditional Plan that passed the 2019 Special General Conference. A need arose from concerns for queer persons of faith, across the life span, as well as their families, who need affirming and compassionate ministers and faith communities. While subtopics of pastoral care and social justice issues are explored, students learn that the relationship is the heart for pastoral care.
Bishop Karen Oliveto, who serves the Mountain Sky Annual Conference, a life-long United Methodist and lesbian, was a guest speaker for the first day of class. The bishop shared her call story and her journey for becoming a bishop, as well the blessings and challenges of serving openly. “I love everyone,” said Bishop Oliveto when responding about some of her episcopal challenges. Students introduced themselves and warmly welcomed the bishop. “It was a fantastic class! Bishop Karen is so approachable and kind and she had this genuine love speaking to our class that was such an incredibly powerful witness. Basically, it was everything that I love about my Wesley experience and I’m so grateful,” said student Alyssa Densham.
Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., a deacon in full connection, is the adjunct professor teaching the course. “I’m grateful for Wesley’s openness to this pastoral care course, and their timing by offering it as the Traditional Plan was implemented on January first,” says Yates. “Students are learning and having conversations about the fears of coming out, homophobia and transphobia experiences, gender identities, community resources, ways to make safe spaces, and other topics that develop sensitivity, while deepening their compassion for serving and affirming LGBTQIA+ persons and their families,” Yates added. Queer theology and special populations, such as queer people with disabilities and queer persons of color, are also touched on this course. Borrowing from Bishop Karen’s pastoral letter, it’s about supporting LGBTQIA+ persons and their families to feel they are not guests, but part of the church family.
It is reality that our churches have LGBTQIA+ parishioners and congregants with friends and/or family who are LGBTQIA+. Quite often queer persons are an extension to our faith communities who may volunteer, serve, receive care, and even attend our worship services. This course is about better affirming them so they see more of the love of Christ in a way that is palpable and welcoming.
Photo contributed by Rev. Giovanni Arroyo.
* Rev. Leo Yates is a licensed therapist and serves as an associate pastor at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. He can be contacted at RevYates@eumclaurel.org for resources.