Two weeks ago, we held our first-ever Generous Space Virtual Retreat, and we survived! In fact, it went pretty darn well. As the Generous Space staff approached this retreat, we had our share of stress dreams. We worried about technical difficulties. We worried about Zoom security. We worried about working together, with two brand new staff members heading into a very unusual first "event." We worried about letting down our Generous Space community, since there was no way we could live up to the experience of our in-person retreats.
We were pleasantly surprised with a weekend full of connection and hope, with almost 300 people taking part from across Canada, as well as some from the USA, Mexico, the UK, and South Africa - some of whom would never be able to attend one of our in-person retreats. Our community showed the kind of love and hospitality that seemed to transcend virtual time and space.
We had three fantastic keynote speakers (Stel Raven, Matthias Roberts & Tonetta Landis-Aina) who brought us timely and necessary perspectives - stay tuned as we release videos of these keynote presentations this summer! Workshop presenters learned to leverage Zoom technology to engage us in learning, using breakout rooms, screen sharing and polling. Affinity groups brought together people across the world who shared a common identity. We even managed speed-friending, an Open Mic, and a dance party featuring DJ Why So Serious... all from the comfort of our own homes!
On Sunday, Michiko closed us off with a fantastic sermon about finding manna and hope as we wander in the wilderness, and we received communion together, listening to a recording taken from our last in-person retreat of our favourite retreat song, "Great is He/She/They"!
We're so grateful for the way our community "pivoted" with us to make this retreat a success. But don't just take my word for it... here are two stories from two first-timers who joined us for the Virtual Retreat!
Gosh, where do I begin? I think the moment it sunk in that I was really welcome at Generous Space was when I noticed simultaneously my spike in anxiety (my knee was definitely bobbing to the beat of something like AC/DC), accompanied by my realization these wide open spaces are terrifying for me, because I’ve never been in them before. Being a mixed-race semi-closeted Asian man—who is Christian, I think?—there aren’t really a lot of places where I’m allowed to be all of those things without causing chaos. Here it was welcomed, and at first it was almost uncomfortable how welcomed I was. But then I realized that everyone here welcomes the crazy artistic gay I am, not from some naïve open arms and empty head, but by people who have had to make the painful choices to lose love to find it. So they offer it with whatever capacity they have.
For me, particularly, that meant that I got really inspired to write a bunch. I got three songs and a two page poem out of the weekend. I got to talk about faith, sexuality, and identity, and my doubts, fears, and confusion surrounding all of them, without the judgment that comes in many of my circles, while also having a deep, centered conversation. My thoughts that had been isolated rumination became meaningful discourse. And I think I made some friends.
So I guess I’m thankful. I don’t often get those spaces. But I knew it meant something when I felt my heart drop when I had to return home after my weekend away. But my head doesn’t feel like an echo chamber. In this world that can convince me that I’m crazy, I don’t feel that crazy anymore. And, well, that’s an absolute gift.
Before this weekend, I had never been at a Generous Space Retreat, and while I already knew a few people before, I felt nervous about it, though less so than if it would have been an in-person retreat as usual. I was wondering what it would be like, and as always when I have multiple options for workshops, I couldn’t decide at all where I wanted to go. I was wondering if it would feel like the various classes and lectures I’ve been attending online since the start of the lockdown, or if it would be different. For me I can say this: it was very different! Even during the keynote speaker events when I mostly just listened and read the chat, I felt connected with everyone. This feeling of connection only got multiplied during the social events, affinity groups and workshops. During short spiritual practices at the beginning of each day, I also felt a closer connection to God and even myself. It all culminated in the service on Sunday. For me it combined everything I love about worship services: feeling a spiritual connection to God, community, feeling centred myself, great music, leaving with things to think about. The sharing time afterwards was such a caring and opening experience as well, and I was among a group of people who didn’t want to leave the Zoom meeting and so we were allowed to stay and chat.
This whole weekend has been very emotional for me and thought provoking. I’m so grateful for the team and for every participant. You all gave me so much. Thank you. I’m still trying to fully figure myself out and I feel like I can’t be fully out. At the same time I sometimes get negative reactions from others in the LGBTQ2S+ community when I say that I’m a pastor. I understand where they are coming from; the churches have preached (and some still do) too many hurtful things for too long. Yet it sometimes makes me feel like I fit in neither “world”. And then came the Generous Space Retreat, where I felt like I can fully be myself; that it doesn’t matter that I’m not fully out (even though I’d love to be) or that I still have some questions regarding my sexuality. I felt seen and heard and even though I was a first timer, like I was part of the community from the beginning. I can’t thank you all enough for that!!!