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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Glenda Stround takes communion from the Rev. Robert Bussen during Mass at the Old Town Church.

PARK CITY — A small group of parishioners held hands at the Old Town Chapel, reciting the Lord's Prayer at Mass on a recent Saturday evening.

They came to sing hymns, listen to a sermon and pray. In those aspects, it was no different than any other Mass, but those who attended said they appreciated the service designed to reach out to gays and lesbians.

"It's just a nice way to come together and feel the spirit," said Brian Minjares, who attended the Mass with his gay partner, Kim Coates.

The Clearfield couple said they enjoyed the Mass, even though they aren't Catholic. The couple, who normally attend a different gay-friendly church, said it's another avenue to celebrate their faith.

"It's OK to be gay and Christian," Minjares said.

That's the message the Rev. Robert Bussen of the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish says he's hoping to spread with the monthly Mass designed to create a welcoming atmosphere for gays and lesbians, along with their straight supporters.

"Sadly, for a long time, gay people have not felt welcome in the church," the Rev. Bussen said.

Glenda Stroud of Midway agreed, saying, "We have to support the gay community. I support it in Salt Lake; I support it here, too. ... We're hoping to get the word spread."

The Mass, just days after a gunman killed five people at Trolley Square, focused on the importance of not responding to violence with violence.

"The call to love ... are hard words to read when vengeance is in your heart," the Rev. Bussen said. "It's your story, too, gay or straight. ... We all have moments where we feel attacked, we want revenge."

During the Mass, he also alluded to the fact that some disagree with ministering to the gay and lesbian community, saying, "This week I've been under attack."

Afterward, he said he doesn't understand why some see it as controversial.

"It seems to be a no-brainer," he said. "Shouldn't every church be gay-friendly and gay-welcoming?"

The Mass, he said, is a response to a statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last November on "Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations."

Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said while many parishes offer outreach or support groups for gays and lesbians, the Mass in Park City is unique in Utah.

He said the Rev. Bussen's hope to welcome gays and lesbians into the church "would be my hope, also."

The November statement, he said, issued a dual call — to the gay and lesbian community and to the faith community.

"Whether we agree with people or not, we should respect them," he said. "I also see a call to gay and lesbian people to join in and try to live a life of faith."

The statement calls for "a welcoming stance of Christian love" and for "nurturing the bonds of friendship" to help bring gays and lesbians out of isolation.

"All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected," the statement said.

However, it also reaffirms the church's position against same-sex marriage, or civil unions, and states that acting on homosexual tendencies is immoral. It encourages pastors to help gays and lesbians live healthy, chaste lives.

"While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination," the statement said. "While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not."

The Rev. Bussen said there's no conflict with Catholic teachings to hold a Mass that "says it's OK to be gay."

"Whether they are sinners or not — probably, the answer is yes," he said. "Like the rest of the people who come into the church."

The Rev. Bussen said the Mass is monthly as an extra for gays and lesbians, who he hopes will integrate into weekly Masses. The next will be held March 17.

"We belong in the normal community," he said. "It's a place here to speak our hearts, to talk to what they need to hear."

For George Gamarra of South Salt Lake, that safe place is refreshing. Gamarra said it's difficult to be both gay and Catholic.

"The father is open-minded," he said. "It's not easy to find. ... Most people can't understand us."

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