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Pilgrim Faith Church closer to diversity goal

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Chris Rapp’s vision for an organization that welcomes diversity at Pilgrim Faith Church in Oak Lawn is a step closer to reality.

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Council of Northern Illinois will have a chapter at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave., beginning next month. Rapp, who is the chairperson of the Open and Affirming Commission at the church, said that she has filled out the paperwork and is now awaiting a response from a representative from the PFLAG’s national organization.

“We are getting excited,” said Rapp, who grew up in Oak Lawn and has been a member of the church dating back to when she was age 4.

The group will hold their first meeting on Sunday, March 18. The group is scheduled to meet the third Sunday of every month at Pilgrim Faith.

Rapp said it has been a lengthy but well worth it process. Her interest in PFLAG began last year when two discussion sessions about the organization were held at the Oak Lawn Library.

The sessions were led by John Hickey and his wife, Mary Ann. Hickey grew up in the Chicago Ridge and is a graduate of Richards High School. His wife also graduated from Richards. The couple became involved with PFLAG after their son told them he was gay when he was 15 years old.

Rapp came away impressed with the Hickeys, who hold informational sessions to reach out to parents who are processing their thoughts after a child informs them that they are gay or bisexual.

“The origins of the PFLAG chapter in Oak Lawn originated with those two sessions at the Oak Lawn Library last January and June,” Hickey said. “Chris came to both of them. That’s how we met. She took the lead on this and told us this is something they should be doing.”

Rapp then attended a couple more PFLAG meetings and was intrigued by the fact that the two gatherings were much different in scope. The meetings were tailored to the needs of that particular organization.

“That’s what I really liked about them,” Rapp said. “They can be so different. One can be more political while another focuses on family.”

After discussing the merits of PFLAG with members of Pilgrim Faith Church and Peg McClanahan, the pastor, the Hickeys were invited to hold a couple of information sessions at the church to see if there was interest.

McClanahan also believed that the organization was a good fit at Pilgrim Faith.

“We are very open and affirming,” McClanahan said. “We welcomed this organization.”

The Hickeys led the discussion that was attended by members of the church and people from different communities who wanted to know more about what PFLAG represents.

PFLAG was founded in 1972 when a mother publicly supported her gay son. The organization unites people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender with families, friends and allies. PFLAG has 400 chapters and 200,000 members in all 50 states. Members range from multiple generations of American families in urban centers, small cities and rural areas in all 50 states, according to PFLAG.

Hickey added that if Pilgrim Faith were to decide to begin a chapter, they could attend workshops and take part in fundraisers, along with holding monthly meetings.

“For parents it can be difficult accepting when somebody comes out,” Hickey said. “At these meetings, we break down some of these myths. Some people say there is a gay agenda. And, well, there is a gay agenda. And that is accepting everyone. Gay rights are human rights.”

Hickey said the priority of the organization is to bring families together in an inclusive world. The monthly meetings and workshops will go over education and about how to sustain themselves after they come out. Discussions will also focus on accepting human diversity and if gay individuals are accepted in the workplace.

A group of about 20 attended the first session and the people in attendance were eager to move the process along. A new chapter does not have to have a large group of members, according to Hickey. But for it to move past the informational phase, several officers have to be appointed.

By the next information session, the group at Pilgrim Faith had appointed a secretary, a treasurer, a vice president and a president, one more than the minimum required. Rapp has been selected as the president for the first year.

Rapp said the first meetings will be more about listening and finding out what members would like to focus on.

“At least we are there just for continuity,” Rapp said. “We are making contacts. We know there is a need. “I think there is still lot of these parents who don’t accept their kids. We have to help change that.”