Deacon Mike Juback stood before parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church preaching love and forgiveness.

At a nearby intersection, protesters carrying signs with hateful messages against the gay community were making their way around Lake Arrowhead.

The opposing scenes were playing out weeks after an argument over a rainbow flag turned into murder in the mountain community.

On August 18th, Laura Ann Carleton was working at her clothing store located near Lake Arrowhead. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says that’s when local resident Travis Ikeguchi tore down the shop’s Pride flag, yelled homophobic slurs then fired upon Carleton. The 66-year-old, who was not gay but supported gay rights, died at the scene. Shortly after, Ikeguchi was killed during a shootout with deputies….

After local churches decried the murder, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church announced it would protest four houses of worship September 16-17, including Our Lady of the Lake. The parish largely ignored the organization known for its anti-gay rhetoric and carried on with the normal Sunday Mass schedule. While a small group of the Baptists and their derogatory signs were seen along the mountain highway, they never made it to Our Lady of the Lake.

Parish council chair Bridgett Johnstone has lived in the area her entire life and knew Carleton. She says the protesters’ animosity doesn’t reflect her community or her parish….

Johnstone was not the only one offering prayers. The Gifted and Called Ministry of St. Mary Catholic Church in Fontana dedicated Masses for the souls of both Carleton and Ikeguchi. The faith sharing group for LGBTQ+ parishioners is a little known but emerging ministry in our diocese. The group at St. Mary’s started just this year, while another at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Chino started just last month. The diocese’s only long standing Gifted and Called Ministry, representing three parishes in the Coachella Valley, recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a special Mass.

Along with the new ministries, comes a new name for the umbrella group guiding them. “Embrace” replaces the former Commission to the Ministry for Families and Friends of Gay and Lesbian Catholics, launched some two decades ago under the leadership of Bishop Gerald Barnes. Embrace, now overseen by Bishop Alberto Rojas, is made up of appointed clergy, as well as straight and gay volunteers. Its purpose is to support the needs of LGBTQ+ Catholics and their families through fellowship and resources. Embrace is available for dialogue with those who have concerns about LGBTQ+ ministry as it relates to Church teaching and doctrine.

Deacon Juback and wife, Susan, are Embrace commissioners and both have gay siblings including one who died during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Deacon Juback says he firmly believes everyone is “entitled to the Eucharist” but knows not all Catholics feel the same….

Father Al Utzig, pastor of St. Mary’s, says the Gifted and Called Ministry at his parish has been greeted with mixed reaction. In an effort to ease tensions, Fr. Utzig and Father David Andel, an Embrace commissioner, recently held a meeting with parishioners uncomfortable with the ministry. Fr. Utzig says he’s not “pushing anything” but acceptance.

“[LGBTQ+ parishioners] don’t feel welcome,” explained Fr. Utzig. “And they’re Baptized, they’re Catholic, they’re part of the Body of Christ. They need to be here.”

Bishop Rojas invoked that same spirit of inclusion in a March letter to St. Mary’s parishioners indicating his support for the new ministry….

The Office of Diaconate Formation in the diocese is also tackling how to better serve LGBTQ+ parishioners. Earlier this year, candidates for the diaconate received a one-day training course through the Office….

From Inland Catholic Byte