St. Martin’s LGBTQ Elders Find Strength in Families of Choice

In the Austin community on the Westside of Chicago, Father Chris Griffin serves a diverse congregation of elders, adults and youth at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. St. Martin’s is an open and affirming space offering a safe haven for LGBTQ people. In the shadow of the Orlando shooting, Father Chris speaks with me about the senior ministry team and the importance of embracing our elders and their families of choice during this emotional time.

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Q: How does St. Martin’s embrace the LGBTQ elder community?
Fr. Chris: Our seniors play an important role within the various ministries of the church. Their wisdom and guidance is a tremendous benefit to us all. We engage our seniors through programming that includes: bible study,  senior chat and chew, and community outreach. Many elders are void of family of origin, and strongly depend on their church family for daily support. Some have practiced a lifetime of carefully hiding in silence. Some were previously closeted but outed by HIV. St. Martin’s welcoming space affirms multiple types of family.

Q: What impact from the Orlando tragedy on the elder community concerns you?
Fr. Chris: Although we are all deeply impacted, our elders have survived the Stonewall Era and the height of the AIDS epidemic and may be especially re-traumatized. We cannot forget the importance of social circles that are open and affirming to facilitate healing. Here at St. Martin’s we are intentional about providing a safe space where you can be who you are and create family.

Q: What summer programming would you like to share?
Fr. Chris: The senior ministry’s summer programming will include health and wellness workshops, additional community outreach and a variety of group outings. The seniors are currently participating in the Chicago 100 blocks, 100 churches initiative that gathers churches on city corners for prayer every Wednesday evening at 6pm during the months of June and July.

Many LGBT people identify themselves as members of a community of faith, and one thing that can help prevent stress, suicide, and isolation among the LGBT communities is acceptance by their religious communities. St. Martin’s is a truly unique place and a gem in the community. Their goal is to continue to provide support, empowerment and family — something to which all of our LGBT elders should have access.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.