Imagine a place of unconditional acceptance….. A place where everyone around you is willing to be a friend even if you don’t know them. Imagine a place where you know that you have something deeply personal in common with everyone around you, even if you have no clue who they are. Imagine a place where you will walk away with a new friend simply by asking the question, “What’s your story?”
The 2013 Gay Christian Network Conference was held in Phoenix January 10 – 13 and I had the privilege of attending on behalf of New Direction. I went last year and had an incredibly positive and moving experience so I was definitely looking forward to being there again. But I was unsure if it would have the same impact it did last year. Well the highlight, in both experiences, was the incredible sense of community.
The conference is such a vivid illustration of the Body of Christ and a glimpse of Generous Spaciousness. Here is a community that could be divided on so many issues. The key differences personally impact the individuals deeply as they concern our convictions at the intersection of faith and sexuality. The GCN community seeks to be a safe space for gay Christians across the spectrum, whether they hold the conviction that same-sex sexual behavior is sinful (Side B), or if they hold the conviction that God can bless same-sex relationships (Side A). It is also a community that gathers individuals from a multitude of faith traditions ranging from Baptist to Anglican to Evangelical Pentecostal to Mennonite. These tensions all exist. But the focus is on Christ and his love, grace, and hospitality. And this is shared in an environment that encourages each individual to pursue a deep, personal, passionate pursuit of Christ and to live out being the church He calls us to be.
At last year’s conference, one of the memories that impacted me so incredibly was walking up to a group of people that I honestly didn’t know, and without anyone saying a word the circle opened a space and invited me into the conversation. There was no expectation except to just be, to join, to come into the community. Over and over this happened through invitations to conversations, sharing stories and journeys with each other, and entering into worship. Going in to last year’s conference, I knew just one person, Wendy – but left with a multitude of new, close, and lasting friendships.
Another profound snapshot of this community is the worship experience. A new meaning of the life of Christ is understood when you stand in a room full of people – many of whom have been told by family, friends, and churches they CANNOT have a walk with Christ – and hear passionate singing of songs that talk about God’s amazing grace, His unconditional love, and wanting to share that with the world around them. As someone who walked away from the church with a sense of not being able to be authentically me, to enter into a time of worship with a community of similar individuals and sensing the presence of God in such a profound way is a transformational experience. Despite different worship styles and traditions there is deep and unified worship that takes place. Reflecting on this year I think of us singing these words of ‘Mighty to Save’:
“Everyone needs compassion, Love that’s never failing; Let mercy fall on me. Everyone needs forgiveness, The kindness of a Saviour; The Hope of nations. So take me as You find me, All my fears and failures, Fill my life again. I give my life to follow, Everything I believe in, Now I surrender…….”
The Sunday service is more of a liturgical style and somewhat uncomfortable for me, but I will never forget sitting next to a dear friend who is an Anglican music minister and sensing how deeply meaningful the worship was for him. Communion is shared together with space for each faith tradition to partake, be honored, and acknowledged even in the midst of many differences (there was even a gluten-free option).
For many individuals who attend GCN Conference, this is the only real time of community they are able to participate in. Many are not in a place where they can share all of who they are with those around them at home, and yet they can be themselves and be fully accepted and loved for who they are at conference. For many this may be the only time of communion with a Body of believers because it is unsafe for them to fellowship at home. It’s humbling to share in this community. And it is motivating for our work through New Direction to continue to pursue such a breath-taking and humbling experience of the Body of Christ where there can be a deep, passionate, and conviction filled unity even in the midst of great diversity.
Coming home from Phoenix and looking ahead, I’m most definitely looking forward to the New Direction Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat that we’re gearing up for in May. Experiencing community in the space of grace and hospitality, is unforgettable and life changing! If you want to help create that kind of community, make sure to join us for New Direction’s Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat – May 10 – 12! More information is available here: http://www.newdirection.ca/content.xjp?id=447