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2021: Gay and Lesbian Outreach at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago
Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago
Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO) at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Chicago.
The building: 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: 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 at 7.00pm.
The neighborhood: 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 lesbian Catholics.
The cast: 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 the service?
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 personally?
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 were played?
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 you?
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 the sermon?
12 minutes.

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 different.

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 come together.

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 around.

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 = terminal)?
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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