Generous Space Ministries, first known as New Beginnings and then New Direction, began in 1985 and started out as an ex-gay ministry. For some of you, that’s enough to make you stop reading…but we hope you’ll read on as we share the evolving story of the ministry.
The current Executive Director, Wendy VanderWal Gritter, came to the ministry in 2002. She had only a cursory awareness of ex-gay ministry and its umbrella organization Exodus. She primarily took the job because she felt that LGBTQ+ people had been wrongly excluded from the life of the church.
In the early 2000’s we began to hear stories from those who made it very clear that despite many years of concerted effort, including therapy and support groups, their sexual orientation had not changed. What became increasingly clear was that for many people who pursued the hope of reorientation, they not only didn’t experience change but they experienced deep harm in the process of trying. The power of the ex-gay survivor story became much more accessible through online connections, and it became clear that distancing ourselves from reorientation wasn’t enough. We needed to publicly acknowledge the harm and trauma perpetuated by ex-gay ideology, make unqualified apology for the ministry’s culpability, and do whatever we could to serve survivors and prevent LGBTQ+ youth in the future from being shamed and pressured by ex-gay ideas.
The ministry broke ties with Exodus in early 2008 and made public apology for the harm caused by its original focus on reorientation. Exodus closed its doors five years later, in June 2013.
In the late 2000s, we began to articulate a posture of generous space that would make room for the reality of different perspectives on matters of faith, gender, and sexuality. In 2012, we saw the beginning of people gathering together to practice generous space. Most of the participants identified as LGBTQ+ but also represented different theological perspectives and held different convictions. What became clear from the very beginning is that generous space communities would be places of love, acceptance, and mutual support. People were craving spaces where they could unapologetically be both Christian and LGBTQ+.
In 2012 we held our first Generous Space retreat and were amazed at what we experienced. People who had been hurt by the ministry in the early years experienced love and the beginning of reconciliation. People who’d been so full of self-hatred experienced being the Beloved. People who’d felt exiled from the church rediscovered belonging in a vibrant worshiping community.
In 2014, the generous space communities had grown so much that we hired a Director of Community, Beth Carlson-Malena. In just one year we saw our connection and community with LGBTQ+ folks flourish through Beth’s leadership. We also hired Danice Carlson-Malena to be our Coordinator of Youth Services, recognizing that it is often a lonely and scary experience to come out as a young LGBTQ+ person in many church communities. We lament the devastating statistics that 40% of homeless and street-involved youth identify as LGBTQ+ and have substantially higher prevalence of suicide and other high risk behaviours.
At the beginning of 2017, the ministry officially changed its name to Generous Space Ministries.
Today, Beth, in Vancouver, is joined by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, in Winnipeg, as Co-Directors of Community. Becca Sawyer, in Toronto, covers both operational and program needs. Holli Durost, in Halifax, looks after our social media presence. Caro Ibrahim, in Hamilton, is our Media Specialist. And Wendy VanderWal Gritter, in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, continues as Executive Director. We are a truly national ministry with more than 30 generous space groups across Canada. We run retreats on the West Coast, East Coast, and in Ontario annually, produce current and relevant resources, equip pastors, and prepare congregations for more inclusive ministry.
Use the "Living Apology" link below to read more about what drives us to own our history, and to find our letter to ex-gay survivors.