28 May 2024

Gay and Pray handbook to make Bendigo churches safer for LGBTQIA+ people

The Anglican Diocese of Bendigo will publish a new manual to encourage churches to make LGBTQIA+ people feel welcomed. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

23 April 2024

The Bendigo diocese hopes to make LGBTQIA+ people feel safer in church through a new handbook based on learnings from a parish program.

The Gay and Pray ministry started as response to the harms LGBTQIA+ people faced, and their high suicide rates, at Woodend and Daylesford parishes.

Bendigo synod members endorsed it as a program that could help churches develop a welcoming and understanding attitude toward the community, four years later.

Founder and former Christ Church Daylesford vicar the Reverend Neil Fitzgerald said it was a way for churches to make amends with, and be an ally to a community that suffered enormously from being marginalised and excluded.  

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He said he believed having a resource to enable better engagement with them would help the church break down barriers with the gay community.

Mr Fitzgerald said the positive response from LGBTIQIA+ people and the church encouraged him to develop a handbook.

He said it would give churches the terminology, concepts and statistics they needed to be more confident about providing an inclusive space for LGBTIQIA+ people.

Mr Fitzgerald said it was about equipping staff and congregant with the confidence to make a connection with them.

“It’s a resource for people to read and feel able to say, ‘Okay, now we can open up the conversation. Tell me about yourself.’ That’s a big part of making people feel welcome and secure enough to start building bridges,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “If church members find themselves in the position where they can’t help, they can then suggest council and community services that can.”

Daylesford parishioner and initiative co-developer Jenny Jordan said she had LGBTQIA+ family members who suffered terribly because of social prejudice, and the manual was her passion project.

Mrs Jordan said she believed the church should be a welcoming and safe place for LGBTIQIA+ people because Jesus never turned people away, especially those facing difficulty.

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She said the plan was to roll out the manual to congregations across the diocese later this year, and hopefully present workshops to encourage members to act on it.

Bendigo Bishop Matt Brain said it was a project that gave people who might often feel excluded by some churches the encouragement to engage with God again.

He said churches ought to be well prepared to meet people whatever their circumstances and project was part of that response.

Bishop Brain said the diocese was always happy to share its resources, including the Gay and Pray program, wherever people might find them useful.

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