Amplifying our Voices: Reflections on the 2019 West Coast GS Retreat


The West Coast Generous Space Retreat is known among the staff as the "chill retreat." The laid-back West Coast vibe is alive and well when it comes to our annual retreat at Camp Squeah in Hope, BC.


This year was our fourth retreat, and we had 65 people join us, one third of whom were first-timers. We had *almost* our full staff team travel to help run the retreat (we missed you, Caro!), including our newest member, Holli, coming from all the way from in Halifax.


Our theme was "Amplify," and throughout the weekend, we focused on overcoming barriers and finding the courage to tell our unique stories and let our voices be heard. We also talked about the voices who are missing or underrepresented among us, and considered how our commitment to postures of hospitality and mutuality call us to seek out those voices. Some of the stories we heard at this retreat included those of disabled queer folks, LGBTQ+ people from older generations, asexual folks, non-binary folks, and people in mixed-orientation marriages.


There were some other factors that made this retreat particularly special...


- The night before the retreat, we held a large allyship-themed event in Vancouver with guest speaker (and former West Coast Retreat speaker) Sarah Bessey. It was great to see over 250 allies and community members attend; it gave us lots of momentum as we headed into the retreat together. For videos from that event, check out these three links!


- This was the first Generous Space Retreat where we had young children present throughout the weekend. Two newborns and one energetic four-year-old became well known among our attendees (they willingly amplified their own voices!), and many retreat participants took turns holding, playing with, and caring for them. Their presence felt like filling in a missing piece, and made our retreat feel even more like family.


- Our artist-in-residence, Lyzanne Foth, who drove all the way from Saskatoon to be with us, amazed us with their guitar virtuosity and their incredible songwriting. Their vulnerability and their fantastic songwriting workshop provided inspiration for many other participants to share their own voices in song.


- Our keynote speaker, Jenna Tenn-Yuk, brought us both her poetry and encouragement and inspiration from her unique story. (Stay tuned next week for video of her keynote presentation!)


- We had our first-ever West Coast Triple A campfire, highlighting the experiences of folks in our community who are atheist, agnostic, and ambiguous about faith.


- In a surprising turn of events, the rain (mostly) held off during our time at the camp, allowing for peaceful hikes through the trails in the surrounding rainforest during free time.


As usual, we closed the last night of the retreat with an Open Mic, where we had the privilege of hearing a lot of voices amplified for the first time, and, of course, our famous end-of-retreat dance party. One of my favourite moments was watching one of our participants who uses a motorized chair joining in the dance party, weaving her chair around the other dancers, with her chair lights flashing. An impromptu game of Dutch Blitz started on the sidelines, and in the next building over, some of the parents who attended were playing Quirkle (which they had re-named "Queerkle"). Along with all the wonderful learning and program-oriented stuff we do, it's these "chill" times I usually remember most.


I'm so glad people continue to come and make the retreat fantastic, practicing generous space together and contributing to one another's healing and resilience. As one participant put it, "The WCGSR has become the event I look forward to most out of anything the entire year. It is the one place I feel I can bring all the pieces of my identity together and be fully accepted in that. If the rest of life looked like this retreat, the world would be a pretty great place." We hope you'll consider joining us next year!


Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing video footage from aspects of the retreat. For now, I leave you with Robbie Walker's fantastic sermon from our Sunday morning service, in which he examines Exodus 3 (the story of Moses and the burning bush) and unpacks what the idea of "amplifying our voices" might look like through a charismatic/Pentecostal lens, with particular reference to Ashon T. Crawley's concept of Blackpentecostal breath. Enjoy!



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