Generous Space Ministries, first known as New Beginnings and then New Direction, began in 1985 and started out as an ex-gay ministry.
For some of you, that’s enough to make you stop reading….. but we hope you’ll hang in there as we share the evolving story of the ministry.
The current Executive Director, Wendy Gritter, came to the ministry in 2002. In her words, she was “naive but willing.” As a mainly straight, recent seminary grad, married to a man with three small children, she had only a cursory awareness of ex-gay ministry and its umbrella organization Exodus. She primarily took the job because she felt that gay (bisexual and transgender weren’t fully on her radar back then) people had been wrongly excluded from the life of the church. And while she thought she would stay a few years and then go and pastor a church – it seems that God had other ideas.
One of the first things that happened is that a long-time volunteer was invited to consider coming on staff. He made it very clear that despite many years of concerted effort including therapy and support groups, his sexual orientation to men had not changed. This individual became an influential team member who helped dismantle any emphasis on reorientation. What became increasingly clear was that for many people who pursued the hope of reorientation, they not only didn’t experience change but they experienced deep harm in the process of trying. The power of the ex-gay survivor story became much more accessible through online connections, and it became clear that distancing ourselves from reorientation wasn’t enough. We needed to publicly acknowledge the harm and trauma perpetuated by ex-gay ideology, make unqualified apology for the ministry’s culpability, and do whatever we could to serve survivors and prevent LGBTQ+ youth in the future from being shamed and pressured by ex-gay ideas.
The ministry broke ties with Exodus in early 2008. When this became public news, we lost about half of our financial supporters. This was a challenging season. (Note: Exodus closed its doors five years later, in June 2013, after public apology for the harm caused by its focus on reorientation.)
In the Spring quarter of 2010, the board of directors concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our developing posture of generous space. Most of the stakeholders agreed that cultivating places where true dialogue and conversation could happen despite disagreements about sexuality was critical for the church. They also predicted, however, that it would be very difficult for churches to risk joining us in trying to cultivate such spaces, and that we would lose more support, which is exactly what happened initially.
In 2012, we saw the beginning of people gathering together to practice generous spaciousness. Most of the participants identified as LGBTQ+ but also represented different theological perspectives and held different convictions. What became clear from the very beginning is that generous space communities would be places of love, acceptance, and mutual support. People were craving spaces where they could unapologetically be both Christian and LGBTQ+.
Early in 2013 we held our first Generous Spaciousness Retreat and were utterly amazed at what we experienced. God showed up in so many beautiful and healing ways. People who had been hurt by the ministry in the early years experienced love and reconciliation. People who’d been so full of self-hatred experienced being the Beloved. People who’d felt exiled from the church rediscovered belonging in a vibrant worshiping community. With the conviction of generous spaciousness challenging us to invest in unity despite our differences, we realized how much opportunity this offered to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. We listened, we shared, we cried, and we supported each other. And we celebrated that Jesus was in our midst.
In 2014, the generous space communities had grown so much that we hired a Director of Community, Beth Carlson-Malena. In just one year we saw our connection and community with LGBTQ+ folks flourish through Beth’s leadership. Also in 2014, we hired Danice Carlson-Malena to be our Coordinator of Youth Services, recognizing that it can still be a lonely and scary experience to come out as a young LGBTQ+ person in many church communities. We lament that devastating statistics that 40% of homeless and street-involved youth identify as LGBTQ+ and have substantially higher prevalence of suicide and other high risk behaviours.
Today, numerous generous space communities gather across Canada, current and relevant resources are produced and made available to the faith community, key events build community, equip pastors, and prepare congregations for more inclusive ministry, and recognition of the contribution of Generous Space continues to expand. We’ve come a long way baby!
Why it’s important to own our history:
For some, particularly in the city of Toronto, the former name of the ministry, New Direction, is a trigger. It still carries a connotation of “pray away the gay” and all the misery that accompanied that paradigm for LGBTQ+ people. Despite having worked within the posture of Generous Space since 2009, we did not officially change the name of the ministry until early 2017.
While we are grateful to now feel like we have a name that actually focuses on what the ministry embodies today, we want to make the following acknowledgments:
- Christian ministry with sexual and gender minority persons has often been perceived to be deceptive and duplicitous. Despite changing our name, we don’t want to just sweep things under the rug and pretend that our history doesn’t exist. As hard as it is, we believe it is important to own our history as honestly as we can.
- Christians talk a lot about repentance but can be perceived as being unwilling to repent themselves. We want to try to be a living demonstration of repentance – that is “changing our mind” – which is what repentance means in the original Greek. We have repented of ideas, assumptions, exaggerations, and misinformation that led to harmful expectations, practices, and beliefs. We recognize that these things hurt LGBTQ+ people profoundly and caused great estrangement and pain in churches and extended families – and that is why we have not only changed our name but we’ve profoundly changed how we welcome, accept, affirm and celebrate LGBTQ+ Christians.
- As much as we are able, we want to be available to anyone who experienced hurt from past practices of this organization to hear them out, to grieve with them, to acknowledge and apologize – and while we understand that we cannot change the past, if we can participate in some level of healing or closure we are humbly grateful to do so. We have prepared a letter for ex-gay survivors that you can read here.