As the final days of 2014 wind down, I thought it would be apt to reflect with a top-ten list of experiences in the ministry of New Direction. Here we go:
10. Relevant Engagement: this is New Direction’s annual event, as much a friend-raiser as a fund-raiser. In 2014 we held four events, the most ever, in Waterloo, Waterdown, Toronto, and Whitby and introduced a lot of new folks to the ministry.
9. Art: has always been a vital part of New Direction’s message. We are well aware that the rhetoric at the intersection of faith and sexuality carries a lot of baggage. We believe that art is essential to bring a redeemed imagination to this conversation. In 2014 we welcomed new contributors to our awesome arts blog The Space Between. Amy Hall was honoured with the John Franklin Art Award for her amazing original poem. We commissioned Andrew Roblyer to prepare a theatrical performance piece for our annual event. And Peter Reitsma gifted the ministry with an original piece, created in the desire to open new doors for justice in the church for LGBTQ+ people.
8. Volunteers: 2014 saw an unprecedented number of volunteers for which we are so very grateful. Helping with the retreat, the Gatherings, Relevant Engagement, and other events, our staff team couldn’t have pulled it all off without them.
7. Videos: In 2014 we made our first attempt at a crowd-funding campaign and we’re thrilled with the support that came in to enable us to create our 5th video project called, “A Church Conversation.” We’re also grateful to the youth and trans* friends who have shared their stories on tape as we prepare for new projects in 2015.
6. Travel: Going on the road with New Direction is a no-frills adventure where staff share rooms in cheap hotels if they can’t find a billet and eat at Tim Horton’s more often than not. But…. since our staff get along so well, travelling together is also a lot of fun. 2014 saw a lot of miles put on the Gritter family van for the Epic Road Trip, Chicago for GCN, Atlanta for Kinship Kampmeeting, Grand Rapids for the Colossian Forum, and numerous trips in and around Ontario. All of these miles signify new connections, events in churches, speaking at conferences, and furthering the dialogue shaped by humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice.
5. Gatherings: In 2014 we saw a multiplication of the Gatherings. These are groups of LGBTQ+ Christians and allies who come together for mutual support, prayer, discussion, and worship. The Toronto Gathering grew in numbers, the Mississauga Gathering hit the one year milestone, and the Kitchener Gathering got off the ground. The addition of a Director of Community this year offers pastoral support to existing and new gatherings.
4. Retreats: We are so grateful for the sense of family that we get to experience at our retreats. It is amazing how transformative just a few days can be. Passionate worship, powerful prayer, people offering their spiritual gifts, time set apart for deeper connection. And lots of laughter! Registration is now open for the 2015 Retreat! We also appreciated a board/staff retreat last January (despite a hotel room with no heat) and a staff retreat in September (thanks to a family who supports ND who welcomed us to use their cottage).
3. Writing: After many years of labour and waiting, “Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church” was published by Brazos and released in May. Thousands of copies have been sold and are in the hands of people in different countries and continents. We get to hear from people from different denominations with different experiences who are resonating with the book. It is also awesome to welcome new writers to the blog and we’re looking forward to offering a full and rich slate of posts in 2015.
2. Staff: Wes Patterson has been such a wonderful gift to the ministry in the last year. Though often behind the scenes, Wes has made significant contributions pastorally, technically, graphically, conceptually, administratively, and has been a valued partner-in-crime for me. Sadly, 2014 also marks Wes’ last year with ND as the paperwork to keep him working legally in Canada proved to be a torturous and ultimately blocked process. We wish Wes Godspeed as he returns to the U.S in January and look forward to hearing about the doors God opens for him. In August, we were beyond thrilled to welcome Danice and Beth Carlson-Malena to the team. Danice serves queer youth and will be working to develop a national mentoring network in 2015. Beth pastors our community and will be helping to launch new Gatherings next year. There’s nothing like 21 days in a van to test whether a team will rise the challenge and get stronger – or crash and burn. We came out stronger! While so sad to see Wes leave, our team is ready to tackle 2015!
1. Communion: Of so many high points and reasons to be grateful in 2014, I have chosen communion as number one. At the retreat, on Sunday morning, we have the privilege of breaking the bread and sharing the wine together. I grew up hearing the warning read the Sunday prior to the Lord’s Supper to ensure that no one ate or drank judgment on themselves. Communion seemed like a scary but somehow necessary thing. As a child I did not have access to this sacrament, but I would close my eyes tight and try to picture Jesus suffering on the cross since this mystery was somehow supposed to be about remembering the Lord’s death. Since then, my theology of the Eucharist has become more generously spacious. (I recognize that not everyone will agree with my perspectives here) I have come to understand this gift of God to the people of God as a tangible means of grace – and that this grace is available to anyone who recognizes their need of it. We do not approach the table because we are worthy – we approach the table because we are desperate for a love and grace beyond ourselves. At the ND retreat, our community groups (intentionally diverse, the groups have spent the whole weekend in dialogue together) come up together to serve each other the bread and the wine. I have the “take off your shoes” experience of celebrating with each of the groups as they come forward. One moment, in particular, is etched in my memory. An individual who works for the Southern Baptist denomination in the U.S (not known for LGBTQ+ affirmation) tenderly served a queer theologian. They had their arms around each other and tears were streaming down their faces. It was a sacred moment of the kind of unity in our diversity that I dream about! Generous spaciousness is energized by Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 that we would be one so that the world would know. Our unity, transcending our differences and diversity, is intimately connected to our public witness. When we choose the way of love, we can find the beauty of unity, and we can be a beautiful picture to those who may be watching. Generous spaciousness isn’t trying to “solve a problem” of who is right and who is wrong on the question of covenanted same-sex relationships for followers of Jesus. Audacious as it sounds, we want to reframe this “problem” as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow in spiritual maturity as we reach out to love one another across our differences (which can be both intimate and significant). We believe that this spiritual formation may be more important than the imagined perfect resolution – that the far right may envision as upholding a particular view of scriptural authority and the far left may view as a justice that eradicates oppression. Afterall, as Miroslav Volf reminds us, “The harder I pursue justice, the blinder I become to the injustice that I myself perpetuate.” Somewhere in the midst of all the tension of disagreement, there is a pearl of great price to be found – a unity that sings to the world of a loving and good God.
As you reflect on 2014 and spiritually ready yourself to enter 2015, may you be animated by the vision of shalom – a world in which there are no barriers to the flourishing of all.
Thank you for your interest, prayers, and support over the last year. We would so appreciate your consideration of a year-end gift to support our ministry.
We look forward to further engagement in 2015!
Have a most blessed New Year!