The State of Dignity Chapters and Communities in 2017
Throughout 2016-17, members of the Chapter/Faith Community Services Committee contacted 32 of our Chapters and discussed three key issues: vitality, -- “ What brings the people to Dignity” resources, -- “ Is planning and offering liturgy too much?” and finally, connectedness--“How do we keep connected in the 21st Century?”
The answers we heard about community vitality were mixed: sobering, enlightening, exciting. “We are thriving…” “ We exist and are hanging on. “We are very blessed to have liturgy weekly”…”Roman Catholic Women Priests and Married Priests have made all the difference in our community…” The DignityUSA story is as varied as our many communities across the country.
- Over 60 percent of our chapters and communities are existing—they meet, they celebrate liturgy and their numbers remain the same, often with ten to twenty people gathering monthly for Mass or a social gathering. Supportive Parishes, affirming Protestant communities or diocesan ministries targeting LGBTQI people, challenge these Dignity chapters.
- 40 percent are thriving with high attendance at weekly liturgies led by both traditional male and female presiders, active committees engaged and offering book groups, justice-based activities, prayer groups, and an array of social activities.
- There are signs of growth in unexpected places: Milwaukee has a Chapter in Formation, and there are communities in Central Pennsylvania and the Ventura, California areas that have begun to sprout. Some chapters are seeing new interest among young Catholics, parents of LGBTQI people, and people interested in faith communities actively engaged in justice work.
- Some chapters share space and liturgies in Independent and Ecumenical Catholic worship space, coming together to celebrate weekly services. Dignity is a part of, but not wholly the focus of these communities.
- Some have found value in opening the doors of Dignity wider, in essence becoming “DignityPlus”, where Married Priests, Roman Catholic Women priests, lay ministers are all gathered around the table. Particularly this is the case where women seek to find women, welcomed and fully celebrating their sacramental ministries, happily seeing the gender divide diminished in Dignity communities.
- And, surprisingly two communities in the Midwest have full access to Priests in good standing with local dioceses, allowing for frequent liturgies on Catholic Church property. One chapter reported that liturgy is no longer their focus, but Dignity has become their social group, connecting them in faith sharing and fellowship.
- DignityUSA (members who are not affiliated with a local chapter but support the DignityUSA mission) are one the largest “chapters” within Dignity. They tend to live in places without a Dignity Chapter, or support DignityUSA’s national and international advocacy, according to Marianne Duddy- Burke, Executive Director, and DignityUSA.
- Great things are happening, too. The discussion of resources revealed ministries, previously unknown. One community has a dedicated Chaplain to work with Transgender people during their transition; another has raised thousands of dollars for homeless people; AIDS ministries and bike rides supporting Breast Cancer awareness are all part of the work our communities provide. Participation in Pride Parades and marches, Speakers bureaus and social media were all part of the outreach of many Dignity communities across the USA.
Very often we heard about leadership fatigue and lack of leadership. “This perennial problem is often what causes these communities to just exist,” said Michael Flynn, Dignity/Philadelphia member. There is a great need to find a larger audience or at least broaden our audience.
There is a need to seek new ways of being Dignity, of reaching our GLBTQ Catholic members as well as reaching our Allies, many representing Catholics in the pews, who support full sacramental equality. “We cannot be just “Dignity” but open our doors to everyone who is disenfranchised in the Catholic Church. Even the term ‘Chapter’ limits who can join the larger table, we welcome all to communal table of the Eucharist,” says Bob Butts, Dignity Dayton’s Living Beatitudes Community.
“Our goal was that we let the chapters know that DignityUSA is listening. At the end of each call, we heard how glad Chapters and Communities had a way to connect and talk about ideas and issues,” said Mike Hogan, Dignity/Chicago member. Facebook pages, Skype calls to each region to talk about specific topics and quarterly teleconference calls were all strategies discussed to continue these important conversations.
We invite all our Chapter and Community Leaders to a Leadership Workshop at the Boston Conference Thursday July 6, 8:30 AM – 12:00 Noon, the day of the opening of our July 6-9 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, where we can discuss the future of DignityUSA.