Reflections on the 2017 West Coast GS Retreat

It was with some trepidation that I (Beth) approached our second annual West Coast Generous Space Retreat at Camp Squeah in Hope, BC.

I tend to approach the second time doing something with the pressure of the expectations established the first time around, and the drive to make it even better. I knew we had 65 people registered, 45 of whom had never attended our retreats, and some had no prior relationship with the Generous Space community or experience with our postures for relating, which felt daunting. And while I was extraordinarily grateful to have my colleagues Eric and Danice helping me plan and run the retreat, I knew it would be our first time doing so without our fearless executive director, Wendy,

We forged ahead, and on Friday Nov. 10th, people began arriving at the camp, where I heard stories of their journeys. One couple had driven from Alberta and spent one night in their vehicle because the snow was blowing so badly. Others had braved the slush along the highways from the interior of BC. Another man had flown into Vancouver and had offered to pick up three retreaters from Victoria at the ferry terminal, and they’d already had great conversations on the road. Several parents in our community offered rides to LGBTQ+ folks they had never met. Even before the retreat began, people were taking risks for the sake of participation in this long-awaited community.

Our first gathering that evening set the tone for a weekend that would be full of laughter, vulnerability, and hope…

  1. The retreaters sang old hymns and newer choruses with that full-volume, no-holds-barred type of singing that I’ve grown to love in our GS community.

  1. We also kicked off our “fly on the wall conversations,” similar to the “pair conversations” we had done at the Ontario retreat, inviting two friends from the GS community to ask one another questions as we listened in. On the first evening, there was a twist – the two people on the “hot seat” had never met. We were privileged to witness Shylo, a 20-year-old Metis trans man, and Lisa, an older Columbian-Canadian trans woman, discovering the similarities and differences in their experiences and gleaning wisdom from one another.

  2. We sent folks off to their first community group gatherings. Community groups have been the mainstay of Generous Space retreats, a chance for folks to gather multiple times with the same intentionally diverse small group to practice seeing the image of God in one another.

The second day brought more vulnerability, risks, and beauty…

  1. I had the pleasure of interviewing author and blogger Sarah Bessey, who revealed how she keeps her spirit soft and forgiving when she’s excluded or misunderstood, and talked us through the many things she’s learned on her journey of allyship with LGBTQ+ folks.

  2. The rain (mostly) held off during free time, allowing for peaceful hikes through the rainforest around the camp.

  3. We enjoyed learning from one another during two workshops, most of which were being offered for the first time on topics ranging from “parenting LGBTQ+ children” to “transgender allyship” to “the Enneagram.”

Sunday’s communion service and sharing time further confirmed that freedom of authenticity and the widening hospitality around God’s table. We heard from our final pair, Brooke (a lesbian) and Elizabeth (parent of a gay son), who tearfully shared why they hold on to faith and church and friendship with one another.

Queer theologian Kathy Kwon preached on John 6, opening up about her difficulties following a sometimes very strange Jesus in churches that often don’t welcome the gifts of LGBTQ+ people, but how like Peter, she still feels compelled to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” These words rang in our ears as we received communion in our community groups, people with whom we had shared so much of ourselves over the weekend.

In our closing big-circle community reflections, we heard stories from parents who had met transgender Christians for the first time at the retreat, and had appreciated their patient willingness to teach them. We heard 

As one participant put it, “I never expected going somewhere for the first time would feel like coming home after the longest day.”  A Generous Space family is putting down roots in Western Canada, and I felt privileged to sit back and watch the seeds grow at this retreat. Please consider joining us next year!

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing video footage from aspects of the retreat. For now, I leave you with a poem that our beloved artist in residence, Rachel Taylor, wrote about her experience of Generous Space at the retreat.