On Saturday, October 9th, we celebrated our 5th Annual Relevant Engagement event. I say ‘celebrate’ because every year this event is like a big party. I don’t look forward to the panic every year over whether we’ll have enough people confirmed to come …. but I do look forward to the actual evening. There is always a lot of energy, conversation, food, wine, music, art and laughter. This year, I particularly enjoyed knowing that this was our most diverse year ever in terms of who was joining us. People across the spectrum of faith, belief, and sexuality were present. My hope and prayer was that everyone would feel warmly welcome – and from the feedback I’ve heard, I think this was how people experienced it. For the first time ever, we did a live-video stream of the event and had about 20 people engage through the stream for the duration of the event. We had some people tweeting, discussing, asking questions …. and I look forward to this side of the event growing in the future. There is available online a saved version of this live feed – it has been unedited and is therefore quite long – but here is the link should any of you who missed it be interested in viewing it. To give you a bit of the outline of the event: First up is the Chairman of the Board for New Direction, Chris Cowie. Chris works full-time in area of restorative justice and in his welcome he shares abit about what drew him to be involved with New Direction. After Chris, I get up and share some of my reflections about the ministry’s activity over the last year, introduce our new mission and vision statements, and share about our new developments in the areas of the arts and social justice (which you’ll hear more about in the future on this blog). A group of musicians we pulled together for the event then rock the house with their version of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah”. Then the rock star of the night, Dr. Tony Campolo takes the stage. Tony and his wife Peggy have been advocates for gay and lesbian people for many years. Tony is a charismatic speaker able to move seamlessly from laughter to putting a lump in your throat. While I wish the sense that gay people are “hurting, struggling, lonely” etc. had been more balanced with stories of gay people living vibrant lives of faith and citizenship, I have found that my gay friends are able to extend grace to this 75 year old fire-ball Italian as he also speaks without hesitation of the importance of equity. Finally, my dear friend and champion of New Direction, Mark Petersen finishes off the night. Mark is the Executive Director of the Bridgeway Foundation. He spends a few minutes interviewing my friend Jay Locke who shares his encounter with New Direction and his hopes for the future of the ministry. Jay is an active participant in the Toronto GCN (Gay Christian Network) group. Relevant Engagement is New Direction’s annual fundraiser. But it is so much more than that. Relevant Engagement is an opportunity for us to invite people into the hospitable and generous spaciousness that New Direction nurtures in so many different places and in so many different ways. This year we had a number of folks who are either post-Christian or really wrestling with their faith and the church. To know that these folks felt welcomed and embraced at this event is such a joy for me. Perhaps more than ever in my life, I want to take a big eraser to the lines that separate church people and ‘other people’. We are family together, navigating our journeys, impacted by one another – for good or for ill. We all have hopes, dreams, longings, needs – we all long to be known and to know – to love and be loved. In this common, shared space – the warmth of hospitality is much more than a fuzzy feeling – it is a radically subversive way of being community that deconstructs the fragmentation, individualism and isolation of our times. And in this space, we see one another – and in one another we see the Image of the Divine. Jesus shows up in the face of our neighbour ….. Lord give us the eyes to see you and to see one another.