Church can be a place of solitude, reflection, and community. For Joe Jennison, writer and director of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, the Catholic Church provided that space, but could also be unwelcoming at times.
His experience as a gay man in the church led him to write the one-man show Confessions of a Gay Catholic.
“It is so incredibly rewarding to stand up there, and share the truth of my heart with people. After I do the show, there are always people waiting to talk to me and tell me their story about issues with their church,” Jennison says.
“They really are appreciative that there is someone there telling this story and allowing them to share as well. It’s just been a great experience for me.”
Jennison’s path to reconciliation with the Catholic Church began with a friend’s request that he go to confession after 32 years of estrangement.
“I went in there to just let him have it. I told him before I started, ‘I just want to tell you that I am a gay man and I lived with a man previously for 15 years, and it was a happy and loving relationship that I don’t regret or consider sinful. Honestly I feel my sexuality is innate and permanent. It’s an important part of who I am, and quite frankly, father, it’s none of your dang business,’” Jennison recalls.
In response, the priest assured Jennison that all are welcome, no matter their sexuality or any other prevailing characteristic. This very moment, Jennison recalls, restored his faith in the Catholic Church, though it did not mark an end to his inner-conflict about faith.
“All of us would be lying if we said we didn’t struggle with faith sometimes,” he said. “It’s not perfect and there is no such thing in my head as blind faith. I am fighting demons all the time. But I do feel at the Catholic Church that I am loved and respected by the one person that matters.”
Although Jennison still has reasons for not feeling completely welcome by the Catholic Church, he does not see himself leaving the traditions and sacraments he grew up with.
“This is the church I was baptized in. This is the church I was raised in. It’s important to me to feel the holy water and taste the Holy Communion. It’s important to me to have these sacraments I learned about as a child,” he says. “I have to stay, so they are just going to have to learn to love me, because I ain’t walking out!”
After performing his show, he often hears from people who do not feel accepted by the Catholic Church. Their feelings often mirror what Dennison had once gone through. To those people, he shares what a priest once told him in confessional, spoken from the perspective of Jesus Christ.
“You are 100% good. You belong to me. I created you and know everything about you. I know every hair on your head. I love every inch of you and I always will, just exactly as you are.”