Beyond the Pews
Vocation in an Unsafe World
On May 22, 2015, a Third Order Franciscan Episcopal deacon, an Old Catholic priest and a member of the Brotherhood of St. Gregory met together in San Francisco to confirm the name and documents of an unusual group of friends in ministry. Since then, the Companions of Dorothy the Worker have cared for the most marginalized folks of the LGBTQ+ community. Many of the companions are folks hurt by the institutional Church, sometimes rejected by congregations claiming to be “open and affirming.” Some are long-time queer activists who had seminary education for ministry in various denominations. And many have moved from their families of origin because of homophobia in their families’ faith communities.
Born from the experience of ministry on the streets for San Francisco Night Ministry and steeped in the Franciscan tradition with a Society of St. Francis friary as its first home base, the Companions adopted the radical hospitality of Dorothy Day and 16 Principles of ethical ministry among the queer community. Every Companion commits to these Principles and to witnessing to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in their various Christian institutions.
Our founding and current members are as diverse as the community that we serve. We are Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Old Catholic, Liberal Catholic Church, Lutheran and United Church of Christ. We are lay, ordained, vowed religious and in formation for holy orders. Starting in San Francisco, we are now moving across the U.S. and the globe, with members in Missouri, the UK and Finland. We thoughtfully shepherd inquirers exploring their vocations with us and always consider the safety of those with whom we minister as our primary concern.
Building family and sharing rituals and celebrations of our faith
The Companions meet people wherever they are at on their spiritual and vocational journeys, offering them the gifts of spiritual direction, pastoral care and sacramental opportunities in our local neighborhoods. The rituals and celebrations of the church year have become a Companions tradition and much looked forward to by the members of the queer community. Ashes to Go, Maundy Thursday foot washing on the street and Palm Sunday processions have provided connections to religious roots for folks who would never feel safe attending a church service. The St. Francis Day blessing of pets brings out many people and their companion animals for blessing and conversation. In our charism statement we speak of modeling Christ’s love. In our presence we are demonstrating that the queer community is important to God and that they are loved. Unconditionally.
A goal for Companions is to become so immersed in their local LGBTQ+ communities that they become as family to one another, a very Franciscan value and definitely radical hospitality. We look to reconnect folks who have been marginalized by the Church with their love for their faith – and to do that with no agenda. We are a support along the way for former seminarians, current clergy, drag queens, queer activists, the trans community and queer youth and their families.
Sharing the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community with the Church and the world
And we are always witnessing to the larger Church the realities of the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community in the Church and the world. Given the progression of homophobic political activity everywhere, this work has become more vital. The progress we thought we had made is at risk, and we need to be prepared. Companions are envisioning our future and working on getting information out on ways to support the queer community and all marginalized persons during these difficult times.
We look forward to making connections with like-minded persons of faith. The Companions of Dorothy the Worker have been observer members of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NAECC) and have connected with other dispersed communities, as well as members of conventual orders, through our conferences with the member orders of the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders of the Americas (CAROA). These experiences have provided invaluable opportunities to learn and share our witness.
This year we welcomed our first Bishop Visitor, the Rt. Reverend Deon Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, and our third Religious Protector, the Reverend Rick Lopez of Texas. We treasure these relationships which give us the support, advice and accountability that are vital to the safety of those we serve.
Charism Statement of the Companions
The Companions of Dorothy the Worker is an ecumenical Christian community, dispersed or under one roof; encouraging each other and supporting each other in ministry; living by the work of our own hands; depending on God as we strive to make God’s love felt in the queer community, which has been marginalized by the Church and the World. We accomplish this ministry by being active companions, living and participating with the people we serve; modeling Christ’s love.
We own as our patron the Blessed Dorothy Day. We dedicate our formation to the Venerable Anthony Turney, who was our supporter and protector. We are guided by Franciscan ideals and the spirituality of our beguine foremothers.
Learn more about the Companions of Dorothy the Worker by visiting our website www.companionsofdorothy.org. And please be sure to join us on social media!
The Rev. Diana Wheeler, TSSF/cdw, has been a vocational deacon in the Diocese of California since 2003 and has served several parishes and nonprofits, including the San Francisco Night Ministry and Oasis California. She is a vowed member of the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis and volunteers with several community nonprofits that serve the LGBTQ+ community. In her day job she is an early childhood program specialist.
- I Want to be Like Bean Blossom by Anna Olson, an ECF Vital Practices blog, November 16, 2016
- Discipleship from the Margins, an ECF Vital practices webinar by David Patiño and Atticus Zavaletta, June 12, 2019
- Multilingual Leadership and Multicultural Churches by Dr. Sandra Montes, Vestry Papers, July 2015
- Pronoun Buttons: A Sign of Welcome by Lisa G. Fischbeck, an ECF Vital Practices blog, April 5, 2019