Starting a Dignity Chapter in Your Community

Chapter Formation Manual: Guidelines and Timetable for Chapter Formation and Applying for Full Chapter Status

More than likely you are thinking of starting a Dignity chapter because you feel some need for opportunities to have regular contact with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics and supportive family and friends whose faith is an important part of their lives. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their families feel that some contact with the Catholic Church is important, but they feel alienated in some way from the local church. Perhaps they need a safe place where they can find accepting and affirming ministry, which they cannot find elsewhere. You could be instrumental in fulfilling their needs as well as your own by beginning a chapter.

You may wonder why you should form a Dignity chapter instead of just any group. Our organization is well known in gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (glbt) and Catholic Church communities and can provide you with an immediate identity in your locale. In addition, you can receive support for your efforts through contact with the DignityUSA national office and nearby chapters and through attendance at various Dignity meetings. Being a part of a larger family is important for the leaders of smaller, more isolated groups who find refreshment and energy from meeting their sisters and brothers in Dignity.

All members of your chapter would also profit by receiving our excellent quarterly, QV, and having connection with other like-minded people throughout the country. Being members of Dignity can make them feel part of a larger endeavor that can have a greater impact on the Church and on peoples' lives than any other local group can have by itself.

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First Things First

Perhaps you are sure now that the kind of group you want to start would be useful and that a connection with Dignity would be desirable. You may wonder where to start. No doubt you have a few friends who feel the way you do and might be happy to begin a chapter. Find a place for your first meeting, get out the news by word of mouth and do some publicity. You may want to have one ot two introductory meetings, where people can come together, just to discuss what they're looking for, and how they feel about being gay and Catholic. At one of your first meetings, discuss Dignity's Statement of Position and Purpose. This is a statement which many groups have found useful in giving their activities direction and purpose. It will also help focus discussion on the direction your new group should take. You may also want to invite a member of DignityUSA's Board of Directors or staff to an early meeting, to show potential members what kind of support is available.

One thing cannot be stressed too much. If you wish to do effective ministry, you must be welcoming and inclusive of all people who come to your group. The best way to make everyone feel welcome is to get a good mix of people at your first meeting so that you have a variety of input. Make every outreach possible to see that you have a good mix from the very start. You will no doubt also find that people who are not Catholics may wish to be a part of the group; let them know that they are most welcome too. We are, after all, an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics and our friends!

You will need to make some decisions very quickly. Temporary officers will need to be chosen and you will need to obtain an address for the group (a post office box is best as it remains stable when officers are changed) and a telephone contact. Then you will need to appoint someone to plan liturgies or other activities, to do news releases to the local media and someone to open a bank account for chapter funds. For the protection of all concerned, we strongly recommend that you have a two signature account. By contacting DignityUSA's national office you can obtain a supply of quarterly QVs, information pamphlets and membership applications. While it is not necessary to do all these things at your first few meetings, the sooner you do them, the quicker your Dignity chapter will be off to a good beginning.

You will need to decide what type of activities to have at your meetings. Dignity has a strong religious focus so you may want to have some type of liturgy or prayer at some of your meetings. You will want to have social activities and educational programs especially in smaller communities. Group discussions are also excellent ways of helping people to get to know one another. They are inexpensive and easy to organize compared with other activities. Some topics might include: "Coming Out," "Experiences in the Church," "What my Faith means to me," "Problems in the Workplace," "Relationships with others" and "Sexual Ethics." Give everyone an opportunity to speak without having any one person dominate the conversation.

You might consider inviting people from other organizations to come speak to your group about a certain issue. Glbt political groups are quite willing to do so on occasion. You might also screen movies, which may be of interest to the group such as major releases with glbt themes, educational tapes and the like. Activities involving the outdoors are usually fun such as hikes, picnics, a day at the beach or mountains, a group trip to a football or baseball game or maybe a backyard barbecue at a member's home.

We suggest that you make contact with your neighboring chapters, become involved in activities that they sponsor whenever possible and work toward achieving full chapter status as soon as possible. The length of time to achieve full status will vary. In order to become a chartered chapter it will be necessary to have ten (10) dues paying members in your chapter and have bylaws which are approved by your chapter's members. Those bylaws should not conflict with the Dignity Statement of Position and Purpose nor Dignity 's national policies. When your DignityUSA Board of Directors contact person concurs that your group is ready for full chapter status, s/he will request a charter be granted at the next DignityUSA board meeting.

We welcome you to the DignityUSA family! We hope that these first few months of working toward full chapter status will be exciting and that your efforts will bear much fruit.

Good luck and remember God loves you more than you will ever know. May God be with us all.

Guidelines

The following guidelines are in the Manual of the Board of Directors:

1. Ten or more PAID members

2. Acting in accordance with the Statement of Position and Purpose of DignityUSA

3. Timely submission of assessments and report forms.

4. Having existed as a chapter-in-formation for a recommended six months (May be waived, if appropriate).

5. Having a set of bylaws, rules and/or regulations not in conflict with or limiting, the Bylaws of DignityUSA.

Timetable

The time-table is based on the date of the DignityUSA Board of Directors Meeting in which the request of the chapter-in-formation is to be voted.

1. 60 days before the Board meeting, the following must be submitted:

A. A letter from the chapter-in-formation to the Board of Directors requesting chapter status. This should be accompanied by supporting evidence (Brag about what you've been doing!). This is to be sent to the National Secretary.

B. A copy of your bylaws, rules and/or regulations are to be submitted to the National Secretary

2. 45 days before the Board of Directors meeting, you will receive one of three things from the National Secretary:

A. A letter from the National Secretary stating that the recommendation of the Officers is to deny your request. You then have the right to appeal this recommendation to the entire Board of Directors either in writing or in person. Contact the National Secretary, especially if you will be appealing in person, immediately so that you are put on the agenda of the Board session.

B. A letter or phone call from the National Secretary alerting you to deficiencies in your bylaws that need to be clarified before a recommendation can be made by the Officers

C. Nothing. This is a clear indication that the recommendations are positive. (Sit back and relax!)

Advice

To avoid the first two results, the following is recommended:

  1. Be sure your bylaws are in order. You may want to have them reviewed by your DignityUSA Board of Directors contact before formally submitting them.
  2. Brag about what you've been doing since you became a chapter-in-formation. Show that you are a strong chapter.
  3. A request for chapter status is not a haphazard process. The sooner documentation is submitted, the easier it is for the deficiencies to be worked out and chapter status granted<

Organization

In accordance with the bylaws of DignityUSA, to be a chartered chapter of DignityUSA, a chapter must have a minimum of ten (10) dues paying members, have existed continuously for at least six months, and have the recommendation of the National Officers.

There are Dignity chapters in the United States and Dignity chapters in Canada. The chapters in Canada are part of Dignity/Canada/Dignité. Both DignityUSA and Dignity/Canada/Dignité had their beginnings in San Diego & Los Angeles in 1969. By resolution of the House of Delegates in 1985, Dignity/Canada/Dignité became a separate organization from DignityUSA. Through our International Liaison, DignityUSA maintains contact with Dignity/Canada/Dignité and other lesbian/gay Catholic groups around the world. Many states in the USA do not yet have a Dignity chapter. A current list of chapters of DignityUSA can be found on our website.

The sample bylaws, included with this package, recommend certain officers for each chapter. These officers are only suggested.

Sample Bylaws for DignityAnytown

I. NAME

The name of this organization shall be DignityAnytown, hereafter referred to as the chapter.

II. PURPOSE AND REASON FOR EXISTENCE

A. The purpose and function of this chapter shall be to work to achieve those goals outlined in the Statement of Position and Purpose of Dignity Inc. (known as DignityUSA) incorporated as part of these bylaws by this reference.

B. The organization may additionally undertake other purposes that do not contradict the above-mentioned statement.

III. OFFICERS AND GOVERNANCE

A. The chapter shall be governed by the following officers:

1. President

2. Vice-President

3. Secretary

4. Treasurer

B. Term of office for the above officers shall be one year and shall be served from the first of October to the thirtieth of September.

C. Rules for governance shall be as outlined in Robert's Rules of Order to the extent these rules do not contradict the bylaws of Dignity USA.

D. Elections of Officers shall be held annually during the month of September.

E. Officers shall be responsible for the levying of dues, appointing committees deemed necessary, fulfilling the purposes of the chapter and facilitating such other activities as may be necessary

F. Officers may be removed from office for cause by two-thirds majority vote of the members in attendance at a regularly scheduled membership meeting.

IV. MEMBERSHIP

B. Each member in good standing is eligible to vote in all elections of officers and shall have the obligation of casting votes at meetings of the general membership.

V. MEETINGS

A. Meetings of the officers shall be held at least once per month for the purpose of conducting the ongoing business of the chapter.

B. Additional meetings of the officers may be held as called by the President, or by two other officers, on deliverance of a one (1) week notice to the other officers.

C. Meetings of the general membership shall be held at least semiannually. The dates of the membership meetings shall be announced at regular intervals beginning at least two (2) months before the meeting dates. A quorum of members shall be required to conduct business.

D. One of the meetings of the general membership shall coincide with the date of the election of officers in September

E. All meetings of the chapter shall be open to all that wish to attend, regardless of membership status. Only officers may vote at officers meetings and only members in good standing may vote at general membership meetings.

F. Anyone in attendance at a meeting shall be given the right to speak. Priority of speaking shall be given first to those eligible to vote.

G. All meetings shall be conducted in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order.

VI. EFFECTIVE DATE

These bylaws shall be effective on the day DignityAnytown is charted as a chapter of DignityUSA. These bylaws will be executed by the provisional officers of the chapter, and will continue in effect until modified, altered, replaced or rescinded by a two-thirds vote of the membership at a regularly scheduled meeting of the general membership.

VII. EXECUTION

President______________________________________________ Date_________________

Vice-President__________________________________________ Date_________________

Secretary______________________________________________ Date_________________

Treasurer______________________________________________ Date_________________

 

Liturgies

Spiritual development is one of the prime areas of concern and commitment of DignityUSA and its chapters. Quoting from the Statement of Position and Purpose: We strive to achieve Christian maturity through the sacraments, Scripture, prayer, an active love of neighbor as ourselves, and liturgical celebrations, especially the Mass. Most chapters sponsor some type of liturgical function, either at all of their gatherings, or on a regularly scheduled basis.

If you’ve never planned a liturgy before, the idea may be a bit overwhelming to you at first. But remember, "liturgy" means "the work of the people." That means there can be as many kinds of liturgy as there are groups that gather together to worship. While many Dignity chapters celebrate Mass regularly, other types of liturgy have become the principle form of worship for other chapters. Many Catholic communities are exploring various kinds of prayer and celebration, which enrich the spiritual lives of the community. What is important is that the spiritual and liturgical life of the chapter meets the needs of the chapter’s membership. This means not only that they are ministered to, but that they have the opportunity to minister to the community as well.

There are many excellent resources to help in your planning. Visit any religious bookstore and sample the material that is available. In addition to printed materials, you might also want to identify people in your community who can help. In many parishes, colleges and religious communities - priests, sisters, brothers and lay people who regularly plan liturgies will be able to offer support and advice. They can also help you identify people who would preside at your liturgies, or train your own members to do so. DignityUSA also can be helpful by sharing the resources and liturgical formats used by other chapters.

Do all that you can to gather your chapter together in prayer and celebration - social events, projects, etc. Do all that you can to allow a vital faith community of justice-seekers to develop. The closeness of your chapter will be evident in your liturgies. Chapters, whose members know and care for one another, pray together often and well.

Fundraising

Every Dignity chapter is in need of additional funding and the best way to see that there is adequate money to meet the chapter’s needs and goals is through fundraising. There are many ways to do this. Ultimately, the best method is to have each member give a certain percentage of his/her income on a regular basis. Tithing has become a more familiar concept to Americans today. Some of your members would be willing to tithe to the chapter if encouraged to do so. Lately communities of faith have focused on a three-pronged approach to giving time, talent and treasure. In this way the donor is challenged to give of their whole person, not just their surplus. The following are other ideas to use for raising funds for the chapter:

  • Passing the collection plate during a liturgy
  • 50-50 raffle
  • Charge for a social event, dance, speaker or party.
  • Bake sale
  • Rummage/white elephant/yard sale
  • Fund appeal letter

Finally, almost any public library will have a section on volunteer organizations. There are a number of books available on grassroots fundraising for small organizations. Remember, the best policy is this: you believe in a cause, you are committed to it and you make it fun.

Advertising

Most Dignity chapters do some form of advertising, whether it be by word of mouth or by formal advertisements placed in various publications. Your chapter may decide to do some local advertising to help get the word out that you exist, and that you are a part of a national glbt Catholic organization.

Although advertising can be quite expensive, sometimes it can also be free, depending on the resources available in your area.

Many regularly published newspapers have "Event" sections, which will run a listing of a meeting or liturgy at no cost. Contact the newspaper for requirements. Even in relatively small cities, few newspapers will deny your request to list.

If there is a glbt newspaper in your area, they will usually accept any "News Releases" regarding the activities of your chapter. If there is no glbt press in your community, see if there are any free weeklies in your community. They may charge something for publication of an ad, but usually run a news release gratis.

If you have a glbt community center, be sure you are listed as a resource on their hot line. If there is no community center, there may be a women’s hot line or women’s center. Traditionally, these centers have been very helpful in disseminating information about glbt organizations.

Some radio stations and/or television stations will accept PSA’s (Public Service Announcements). Some of these may even have a glbt radio program which will happily list your chapter’s activities as part of their local broadcast.

Don’t overlook the possibility of advertising in the local Catholic paper. Even though the official Vatican line is firm, many diocesan justice and peace officers, ministries to singles, or ministries to the "spiritually alienated" will be willing to help publicize the fact that you exist and have regularly scheduled meetings and liturgies. Even the religion editor of your local mainstream newspapers may want to talk to someone from the chapter when some newsworthy event is happening.

Finally, contact the owners and managers of businesses and organizations that cater to the glbt community in your area. These organizations (bars, bookstores, restaurants, clubs etc.) will usually be happy to let you place fliers or allow you to post a notice on their bulletin boards. Don’t overlook these business resources for potential fund raising activities.

Some sample News Releases follow:

Sample Press Release #1

Date:_______________________

For further information contact:__________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholic Organization formed Locally.

A local chapter of DignityUSA, the national organization of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender Catholics, their families and friends, is forming in the ___________ area.

Dignity, which espouses the statement that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are equal members of the mystical body of Christ, has existed nationally since 1969 and boasts nearly 2,500 members nationwide. The local chapter ________________ meets at ______________________ every _____________________.

All gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender Catholics, their families and friends, as well as other life-minded individuals seeking to integrate their spirituality with their sexuality are welcome to attend the next meeting.

For further information please call ________________

or write to __________________________________.

Sample Press Release #2

Date: _________________

For further information contact: ____________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DignityAnytown Holiday Liturgy Scheduled

DignityAnytown, which was formed in the Anytown area last summer, has released plans for a special Christmas Mass for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholic community, their families and friends.

Dignity, which believes that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can express their sexuality in a manner that is consonant with Christ’s teaching, will hold its special liturgy at ________________ on ___________.

All are welcome to attend. For further information, please call __________ or write to ___________________________.