hanging out with about 400 gay Christian friends

Last weekend I attended the Gay Christian conference in Denver. I’ve been pondering how to write about this experience and giving myself a little space to process before doing so. This is the third time I have gathered with this community. The first time, in 2007, I went incognito (with full disclosure to their leadership) while still serving as the regional rep. for Exodus. I wanted to listen, observe and be open to whatever God might impress on me. My second conference was last year. I was “out of the closet” so-to-speak as an ex-Exodus leader and straight advocate leading a side B ministry. (For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, side B would view celibacy as the God-honouring option for gay people). I did a workshop on bridge-building that year with great trepidation, but with a great reception from the participants. Over my years of conversations with both ex-gay and gay folks, I have often heard people recount their first experience going to a gay bar. As they told the story, people would often express a familiar sentiment, “I felt like I was at home immediately.” They told of finally feeling like they fit somewhere, like they belonged, like they were understood, like they were safe to be fully themselves. When I would hear these stories, often I would feel a sense of longing in my heart that rather than a gay bar, these friends would be telling this kind of story about the church community they were part of. What they described was what I prayed and hoped the church would be. Being at the conference this year was a bit like that experience for me. Because I felt like I knew more people and more people knew me, I felt more comfortable this year than my past two experiences. People are often surprised to hear this, but I can be shy and hesitant with new crowds of people. Give me an audience of 500 people and I’m fine – but ask me to get to know a new group of nearly 500 people and I’d rather have a cup of tea in my room. In the other two years, I was also extremely sensitive about not wanting my presence to be uncomfortable, or worse yet, unsafe for other participants. But this year, I felt more free to simply be. And I felt accepted. I could laugh. I could worship. I could be myself. I could hug….. a lot. I could extend love and I could receive love. And it was a beautiful thing. I found that there was a maturity at this conference in navigating the differences that were present in this community. One of the unique things about GCN is the hospitality that is extended to gay Christians regardless of whether they are ‘side B’ (celibacy) or ‘side A’ (committed relationships). Because of the commitment to nurturing a space where people can be authentic, there was grace and care extended to honour one another’s convictions – even where they differed. There was a space where we could worship together – and see one another first and foremost as a brother or sister in Christ. Thi