The Community Doing it for Themselves: Reflections on the 2016 Generous Space Retreat

This year’s Generous Space Retreat ended three weeks ago, and I’ve finally recovered enough to reflect on it.  Actually, “recovered” is an exaggeration.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel nearly as exhausted as I expected after this year’s retreat, and I’ll tell you why.

As Director of Community, I sometimes catch myself believing the lie that it’s my responsibility to single-handedly pastor every individual who contacts New Direction.  It’s up to me to somehow produce spiritual and emotional maturity in our community.  I must ensure that everyone is healing and growing and being stretched.  (This lie has the delicious side effect of making me feel really, really important.)

Then I show up at our GS retreat and realize that all I have to do is get a bunch of our community into the same place, step out of the way, and watch in awe as they do all of these things for one another.  Let me tell you some of the things I saw at this year’s retreat, interspersed with some quotes from participants and some great photos.

I saw our community give each other the gift of freedom.

“I met people with similar and very different experiences to mine, and felt free to be completely open without hiding my identity.”

“The most helpful thing for me was to just have the opportunity to be in a space with so many LGBTQ people and to know that I could be myself and feel loved and accepted. Slowly I’ve been unravelling the ways I have thought about myself and felt ashamed for my feelings and rebuilding my perceptions with love and gentleness. The retreat helped to affirm me in that process while breaking down walls and learning that it’s ok to be me.”

I saw our community teach each other how to honor difference.

One of our themes for this year’s retreat was intersectionality: the way different aspects of our identity (gender, race, sexuality, ability, nationality, income level, etc.) overlap to produce different experiences of power, privilege, discrimination, and inequity for each of us as we encounter systems of oppression in our world.

Our keynote speakers, Michael Blair, a gay Jamaican man, and Jordan Sullivan, a transgender man, educated and inspired us to see and address these inequities and receive the gifts of difference in our community.

But it was our retreat participants who brought their message closer to home (particularly the people of color, transgender people, and people with disabilities and mental health challenges in our community), bravely sharing their stories in their community groups, on panels, and in their works of art.  Those of us with greater privilege saw God work powerfully through these more marginalized members, exposing our ignorance, exploding our stereotypes, and exhibiting the beauty of difference.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the opportunity to spend this weekend with such a beautiful branch of the Church, being reminded that God is drawing all life toward him/her/their self.”

I saw our community inspire one another in creative expression.

Our first-ever Retreat Variety Show showcased our community’s way with words, with several poets courageously baring their souls.  The evening also featured dancing, singing, a monologue, an opera solo, ukulele, and accordion.  One of my favorite moments was when one participant invited all one hundred of us to

These artistic expressions weren’t mere entertainment – they were tangible demonstrations that all of us (including LGBTQ+ people) are the children of a creative God, and we can take delight in co-creating with our Creator.  You can find some records of this retreat creativity on Chris’ blog and Jenna’s blog.

“On the first day, someone who had found my website approached me and said, “Your poem helped me to come out.” I had never met this person before and had no idea how my story impacted them. My poetry gave this person the courage to come out, live their truths and realize they weren’t alone in their experiences.” – Jenna

I saw our community become agents in one another’s healing.

Everything I’ve already mentioned – the freedom and acceptance, the intersectional learning, and the creative expression within our community – these things were all means whereby many people received God’s healing.

“I found that the retreat was a good step in moving myself back to church. I haven’t experienced corporate worship in that concentrated amount in a long time. It was really triggering at some points, but also very healing because it felt like a safe space.”

I saw the mother of an LGBTQ+ child stand in the gap for other mothers, publicly praying for forgiveness and pouring out her love for those who were estranged from their own mothers since coming out.  I was overwhelmed with emotion watching so many LGBTQ+ people rush forward to hug her, since in my pastoral role, I was privy to many of their personal stories of ongoing tension with their own mothers.  I knew my conversations with these people had been helpful, but I gratefully marveled at how one mother in our community could instantly channel this healing in a way I could not, simply because of whom she represented.

“I arrived at the retreat with the hope of learning more about this whole generous spaciousness posture as this was my first interaction with New Direction…but somewhere along the way I rediscovered a personal, engaged relationship with Jesus, developed deep relationships, learned both humility and pride, and rediscovered the Church alive and well amidst these my kin in the LGBTQ+ community.”

If you want to join us for next year’s Ontario Generous Space Retreat, it’s already booked for May 4-7, 2017, so mark it down on your calendars.  And if you’re closer to the west side of the continent, join us this year for our very first Western Generous Space Retreat, Nov. 11-13, in Hope, BC!

#community #GSretreat #creativity #comfort #freedom #conference #intersectionality #events #healing

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