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|2021: Gay and Lesbian Outreach at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago
Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO) at Our
Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Roman Catholic, Archdiocese
Mount Carmel is a beautiful English Tudor Gothic Revival style
grouping of church, parish house and school dating from 1913,
featuring stained glass windows, marble altars and a pipe
organ. It was built as the North Side parish for English-speaking
Catholic congregations, complementing all the separate Italian,
German and Polish parishes being built at that time and earlier.
Well maintained, it forms an attractive part of Chicago's
North Side neighborhood.
The church has many ministries and outreaches that are well
documented on its website. However, this mass was not a parish
function but a service that draws gay, lesbian and like-minded
folk from a large geographical area. This weekly mass and
its supporting organization, AGLO, were established in 1988
by former archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin,
as an outreach to gay and lesbian catholics and as a Roman
Catholic Church-approved alternative to the Catholic gay organization
Dignity. Tensions had arisen between Dignity and the Catholic
Church with the result that Dignity was no longer allowed
to hold their weekly mass in a Catholic church. Dignity now
meets in a nearby Methodist church and AGLO meets at Mount
Carmel. AGLO holds a mass at the church every Sunday evening
The church is in Lakeview East, the heart of the gay social
and cultural center of Chicago on the North Side, bordering
the shore of Lake Michigan. It contains shops, restaurants,
bars and other businesses popular with lesbians and gay men.
The area features upscale apartments and lofts, and has seen
much gentrification in recent years, and larger businesses
are beginning to move in to the area. The location of the
church (and the free parking for mass attendees) is ideal
for this religious and social organization serving gay and
The Revd Sam Cunningham, SVD, was the celebrant. He was assisted
by Amy Rosenquist, cantor; James Ward, director of music;
and Dan Weitendorf, director of liturgy.
The date & time:
Sunday, June 20, 2010, 7.00pm.
What was the name of
Liturgy of the Eucharist, Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How full was the building?
Approaching half full, with maybe 175 in attendance. The church
might seat 450 when fully packed. The attendance appeared
to be 90 per cent men.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes. Saying "Welcome", a greeter handed me a service
sheet and the AGLO weekly newsletter.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, nice old wood pews with the usual drop-down kneelers.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with some prayer, but more discreet greetings and chat.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon and welcome to AGLO Chicago. Please take
a moment to turn off or silence your cell phones."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Red-bound Ritual Song from GIA Publications. These
constitute a very complete Catholic service book and hymnals.
What musical instruments
Organ (one of the two fine instruments in the church) and
piano. The church has an EM Skinner pipe organ built in 1928,
one of the last installations to be personally supervised
by Skinner himself. The 54 rank three manual organ has been
restored to its original state. In addition to this, in 1987
the church acquired a mechanical action pipe organ built especially
for them. Their volunteer choir was off for the summer.
Did anything distract
It was nice that the church is air conditioned, but I was
apparently sitting right above the fan room. The floor and
my pew vibrated noticeably with a very audible hum going on
throughout the mass.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Pretty standard novus ordo. There was a procession
with crucifer and torch-bearers. They did ring sanctuary bells
at the consecration, but alas no "smells". The hymns
were a mix of Protestant hymns and typical St Louis Jesuit
songs from the 1970s. The acclamations (Sanctus, Benedictus,
Agnus Dei) were from the Land of Rest mass setting
by the late Richard Proulx.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
5 Very listenable, but I felt like I was comforted and
even flattered, not taught or challenged. I'm not sure how
many men felt like putting on a dress afterward, but it was
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The gospel reading was Luke 9:18-22 (some say Jesus was John
the Baptist or Elijah, but Peter confesses him to be the Messiah).
Father Cunningham related this to the movie (and musical)
Billy Elliot, where a talented young boy must choose
between his love of dance and his family. He emphasized acceptance
and being who we truly are, and said that cross-dressing,
men being effeminate, or women being "butch" are
not to be looked down upon. Our private and public personas
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The atmosphere was really very warm and welcoming, with a
nice balance between that and giving people their space. Their
practice is to join hands for the spoken Lordís Prayer. Plus,
I really liked the stained glass, remembering it from other
visits (they have pictures of the stained glass on their website).
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Nothing too bad (unless you happen to be uncomfortable in
a room of mostly gay men) except the vibrating floor and the
air conditioning hum.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
The refreshments were announced for an adjoining building,
but the group was very sociable in the narthex and on the
steps outside, and with the warm weather much greeting ensued
after the service. I was greeted by an acquaintance and introduced
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Eventually I made my way to the social hall for green tea
and a store-bought cookie plucked from the plastic tray. No
coffe, (it was now about 8.20pm) but caffeinated soda was
available. Refreshments could be improved upon, I suppose.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
6 This mass is a regular church for many gay Catholics
who apparently prefer it over their geographic parishes (or
the other masses at the church). I would miss non-gay people,
children and women. I prefer the Anglo-Catholic worship and
music I am used to, but it is pretty appealing.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, good worship, friendly folks and a beautiful setting
are a very uplifting combination.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will find myself reflecting on how successfully Cardinal
Bernardin navigated the troubled waters around the issues
of gay Catholics, with both this group and the Dignity chapter
flourishing two decades on. Probably not many prelates (including
the current one) would have the skill to do the job as well.
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