A woman whose fear has kept her away from a community where she could acknowledge her own goodness finds support , friendship, and affirmation when she reaches out to Deb. Although she never made it to the potluck, she found a friend who loved and respected her for who she was.

My husband and I are part of the Diocesan Catholic Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons monthly potluck host team, and we are members of the Parent Support Group team as well. I sent our bishop a note, along with this tribute to a friend, saying I know he hears our group should not be seen or heard, but by being “out”’ we can help bring peace to those who need us. In answering me, he reminded me, that although she had not made it to a potluck supper, she had indeed been "welcomed to the great banquet."

My friend died this week. I had not known her long, but her life touched mine, and I will miss her. She reached out to me in September, beginning the phone conversation in the same way a few others had: “What do you people do at those potlucks, and who comes?” I never know how the conversation will go after that ... but in her case, it was the beginning of a friendship.

My friend was a retired Catholic school teacher with chronic health problems. I had gone to school with her younger sister. She had taught my younger brother. We connected quickly. She worried at first that I would recognize her name, and then later appreciated the fact that we had so much in common.

She was finally coming to terms with the fact that she was lesbian. She told me she had kept the bulletin announcement with my name and phone number in it for four months before she got the courage to call. She told me on the first call that she had not shared with anyone her "secret." That she had not spoken it aloud, until she called me.

We visited on the phone for an hour the first call, then again about two weeks later for another hour. She came out to one of her sisters between calls, and was so grateful that her sister had been kind and loving and told her this was not a big issue and that she should have shared earlier ... and that she was loved.

In the beginning, I invited her to our monthly ministry potluck. She told me she was afraid that coming out to a crowd was more than she could deal with. I told her she would be fine, as the potluck includes family and friends, supportive parishioners. No one would make any assumptions from her being there. She said she would try, but lost her courage.

The next few months her health issues were worse, and it was not until February that we got together for lunch and a three hour visit. She shared with me her story, and her fear that Who She Was would take her straight to hell. This was not a woman who had been away from church. She was a religious order auxiliary, and had a committed prayer life and strong faith. She was concerned because a few months before we met, she felt love for the first time, and it was for another woman. Nothing had happened, she knew her love interest had not felt the same way, nothing had happened, and yet she feared for her soul.

I spent a lot of the time we had together reminding her that she was as God made her, that she was loved, and that the Father cared for her. We spoke every few weeks, sometimes just for a quick reminder that it was "potluck" week, sometimes for more "soul sharing" conversations. She never made it to a potluck supper; her health and her wariness just didn’t allow it. But she never gave up, telling me each time, "I will try; I really want to come."

I left a message for her on Tuesday that the potluck was a week late because of Easter. She didn’t call back, but that was not uncommon when her health was at its worst. I found her obituary on Sunday and hoped that she died in peace, knowing the Father loves her. He does; I just hope she felt it.

Deb Word