As I type this, I’m flying home from St. Stephen, NB, where I participated in my first East Coast Generous Space Retreat. I’ve been to the Ontario Retreat and West Coast Retreat several times, so with this, I’ve earned the coveted title of Retreat Triple Threat.
The cozy venue at St. Stephen’s University (SSU) boasts the best wallpaper, warmest hospitality, and tastiest food of any of our retreats. The East Coast Retreat is Generous Space’s newest and smallest retreat, so it wasn’t long before I’d met and chatted with all 33 participants; most were Atlantic locals, with a few other “CFAs” (Come From Aways) like me in the mix.
We opened the first night of our retreat by singing some queer hymns, talking about the postures of Generous Space, and getting to know our community groups. The next morning, we woke to sobering news from the Anglican General Synod that efforts to change their marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage ceremonies had been voted down by a small margin of bishops. Our songs of lament took on new depth as we grieved with the Anglicans present with us, and sang out our solidarity with those in our wider GS community: “Courage, my friend, you do not walk alone…”
Our keynote speakers, LA Henry (a former professor at SSU) and Carly Murphy (a former student) tag-teamed a fascinating presentation about the implications of the language we choose in our queer stories. They unpacked the ubiquitous “coming out of the closet” image that serves as turning point of many queer narratives. While acknowledging the ongoing importance of queer visibility, they recognized the privilege inherent in the ability to come out, and the way this language choice limits expressions of fluidity and ongoing self-discovery. They invited us to explore the more expansive metaphor of “being backstage,” preparing ourselves until the time is right to take the stage and reveal more vulnerable parts of our identity to different people.
That night we “let loose” with an epic Open Mic and singalong in the spirit and tradition of East Coast kitchen parties. Wendy, our Generous Space ED, who had moved to St. Stephen only two weeks prior to the retreat, invited us to spend the evening in her new home. We gladly obliged, filling her house with plenty of GS creativity and joy, including all kinds of storytelling, poetry, and music. Song requests ranged from 90s worship numbers like “Days of Elijah,” to Cher, to Backstreet Boys, and the singing continued into the wee hours of the morning.
There were several more highlights, including the introduction of some fascinating new workshops on themes of racial justice, allyship, and change, and a powerful sermon from Becca Sawyer. (For many of us, the local ice cream shop and chocolate museum were high points as well!) We also had the chance to welcome Holli Durost as a new GS staff member living in Halifax, and thanked Eric for his hard work on staff as he steps back from GS work to focus on his PhD.
As we sang our closing doxology in the Red Room before going our separate ways, I was reminded again how little time it can take to form new bonds with queer and ally fellow-travelers, and how essential it is to offer each other tangible support, both for those who are preparing themselves “backstage,” and those who are venturing out in front of the lights.
I can’t wait to see more and more East Coasters and Maritimers discover Generous Space through retreats like this one (to borrow a joke from the weekend, we particularly look forward to welcoming “enby NBs” – i.e. non-binary New Brunswickers!). Collectively, these folks bring a beautiful blend of hospitality, humour, and interdependence that will continue enriching our whole community!