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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.