“It Gave Me Hope”: Eden Invitation Speaks at Texas A&M
In a corner of the world where interactions between Christians and LGBTQ groups are often characterized by hostility, something unique happened to bring a community together. St. Mary’s Catholic Center serves the students at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and last month, they hosted a virtual talk featuring Eden Invitation’s Anna Carter.
“At Texas A&M and St. Mary’s in particular, it’s a very traditional, conservative mold of a Catholic,” says Fr. Chris Smith, who serves as the Associate Pastor. “There are those who experience (same sex attraction and/or gender discordance) and feel that they have to hide it, and they have no one to go to, to talk to about it. We want to minister to all of our students.”
Since coming to St. Mary’s last year, Fr. Chris started a group for those with an experience of same sex attraction and/or gender discordance. However, he was looking for a way to expand awareness and begin the conversation in the broader Catholic community, and having Anna share her story seemed like the perfect way to do it.
“In a particular way, Eden Invitation reaches young people,” says Fr. Chris. “There’s a beauty to their ministry, and both Anna and Shannon are very relatable, and approachable, and can speak into the culture of a college student.”
“I think a strength of Eden Invitation is they’re very clear on what they believe, and Church teaching and what Christ teaches, but they come at it with such compassion and love and the basic truth and reality of human need and desire,” he adds. “That’s something Eden Invitation does well; they boldly proclaim truth, but at the same time are boldly aware of the human condition and need for love.”
The event was an opportunity for students who experience SSA to hear from and be encouraged by someone who understands the experience. Following the talk, students reached out to Fr. Chris about becoming part of St. Mary’s community for those experiencing SSA/gender discordance.
“It was a direct fruit of the talk,” says Fr. Chris. “Anna talked about the importance of having community to journey with you and a space to be able to share what you experience.”
There were also many students who were knowledgeable of Church teaching, but struggled in knowing how to practically and pastorally connect with acquaintances and loved ones with an experience of SSA. For them, it was an opportunity to listen, learn, and broaden their perspectives.
“We had other students who reached out and said, ‘That was so good for me, because of my friends or family members who experience same sex attraction,’” says Fr. Chris. “I think it reminded a lot of our students to go back to the simplicity of loving the human person; these are our brothers and sisters.”
A&M student, Jennifer De Leon, is a senior, graduating this spring. As someone who has experienced gender discordance, she joined the group at St. Mary’s and found the community to be a support and blessing in her life. For her, attending Anna’s talk was an opportunity to be reminded of the truth of God’s love and be encouraged to see the support of her fellow students.
“It was comforting and it gave me hope for the future,” says Jennifer. “I’m praying that people will incorporate this into their lives and share it with other people.”
“Anna was easy to listen to, animated, passionate, and Catholic,” she adds. “It was so good; it was empowering. We should all desire to learn about how to love better, that’s the point.”
Fr. Chris hopes that the impact of Anna’s talk is lasting and helps to bring these conversation to the forefront, empowering all students at St. Mary’s to receive God’s love in their own lives, and share it with those around them.
“(I hope) all students here feel cared for and that they have a place in the Church and that there is a path of holiness for them,” says Fr. Chris. “The hope is to bring more dialogue, as well as more community and support for those who experience it and those who don’t, but are trying to love their brothers and sisters,” he continues. “(We hope) to form our students to have a heart of compassionate orthodoxy.”