Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry

Ross Murray
Fortress Press, 199 pages

There is no single approach to youth ministry, and creating an LGBTQ- inclusive ministry is no different. Ross Murray acknowledges this challenge and attempts to build a framework of values and understanding that ministry leaders can apply when dealing with various questions of ministry with LGBTQ youth as they arise. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of inclusive ministry ranging from practical questions such as sleeping arrangements on trips and choosing adult leaders to broader questions around identity, ritual and the overriding purposes of youth ministry.

Murray shares his experiences founding an LGBTQ-specific ministry, The Naming Project, and eventually shifting that ministry into a week-long summer camp. In doing so, he hopes to equip readers with a framework to handle the complexities of inclusive ministry. The book follows the process of developing The Naming Project from inception to fruition, deciding exactly what type of ministry was needed, recruiting participants and volunteers, developing appropriate programming and candidly examining what worked well and what did not. Murray’s experience is with an LGBTQ-specific, non-traditional church ministry, and many of his experiences do not apply to adapting an existing and integrated youth ministry program to be more inclusive of LGBTQ participants.

I appreciated Murray’s theological interpretations through a queer lens, particularly using Scripture to support the importance of identity and how often identities (and therefore names) change. Additionally, there are several appendices with lists of helpful resources and tools. But I was disappointed at the number of times the book emphasized that LGBTQ youth needs are not that different. While this is true, and an important reminder, I wanted the book to help me be a better ally and learn how to stop making some of the heteronormative mistakes common in youth ministry (such as commonly using “boys versus girls” to divide up large groups for activities). For example, while Murray acknowledges that most sexual education curriculum is heteronormative, his bigger take-away from the section on faithful sex education is that LGBTQ students need sex education that focuses on the same major topics as straight youth, such as self-acceptance and consent.

I am not sure who the target audience is for this book. It is written with the assumption that if you are reading it, you agree that youth ministry should welcome LGBTQ students. Yet much of the advice is very basic, like the suggestion to place a rainbow flag on your desk to quietly signal you are a safe place or a reminder that the youth have interests unrelated to being LGBTQ. Other times, Murray assumes that readers are familiar with vocabulary such as pansexual or microaggression.

In addition, Murray spends a fair amount of time focused on building from the ground up. Since I am coming from a well-established youth ministry, this felt like an awfully slow start. The second half of the book focuses on programming, and there are helpful tips like questions to ask organizations you might partner with to ensure they will be inclusive of your LGBTQ youth. While this might be useful for organizations starting a youth program, or thinking about inclusivity for the first time, I had hoped for a greater focus on ideas for an established program.

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Katie Patterson serves as youth ministry program manager at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.