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, who had another commitment that weekend.
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…
- 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.
- Our artist-in-residence, Rachel Taylor, who was brand new to Generous Space, began endearing us to her quirky, nerdy, creative personality through her spoken word poems, which were often hilarious but also startlingly profound. Her willingness to share her insecurities and embarrassing stories helped the rest of us feel safe enough to let down our guard.
- 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.
- 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.
By the end of that first evening, I managed to remember the thing I seem to forget every single time we do one of these retreats… yes, we staff can work hard to plan schedules and conditions that are conducive to the formation of relationships and the practice of generous space… but it’s the GS retreaters themselves who always to step up, take risks, and make the “generous space magic” happen. (I don’t know if it’s because we always attract high-caliber people, or because the Holy Spirit always shows up to help… probably a bit of both.)
The second day brought more vulnerability, risks, and beauty…
- We saw another “fly on the wall” conversation between Gabby and Kent, who revealed their love for football (Gabby) and cows (Kent), and gave us a snapshot of the unlikely friendship they’ve built by attending multiple GS retreats together.
- 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.
- The rain (mostly) held off during free time, allowing for peaceful hikes through the rainforest around the camp.
- 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.”
For the first time at the West Coast Retreat, we closed the night with an Open Mic. Our theme was “Coming Out,” and we marveled at the musical and poetic gifts among us, and especially the gift Danice has to “dance like no one’s watching” to her favourite coming-out anthems, and launch us all into an impromptu dance party that we never thought possible at an alcohol-free camp! The dancing reflected the joy and freedom many of us felt to finally be among people from whom we had nothing to hide. Some of our parents even joined in on the fun!
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 from LGBTQ+ people who had been deeply encouraged by the supportive presence of parents, siblings and allies. We heard from people who no longer identify as Christians but felt welcome at the retreat. We all left with greater courage and support for the challenges ahead of us – whether it’s transitioning, coming out to friends and family, working for greater openness and understanding in our churches, discovering our calling, or finding ways to rebuild our faith on a new foundation.
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.