“I have gay friends and then I have Christian friends. I don’t have many friends who are Christian who are also gay. Now I do, so this is great!”
Those were the words of one of the participants of this last weekend’s CenterPeace retreat.
If we had come together for just this person, it would’ve been worth it.
Every time I come back from a CenterPeace event I’m filled with hope. Hope for younger generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. Hope for parents and families. Hope for the future of the church. This past weekend was no exception.
CenterPeace hosted our very first online retreat, a Tapestry spiritual formation retreat for LGBTQ+ Christians. The name – Tapestry – is taken from Paul’s letter to the Colossians where he says, “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, that you may come to know everything there is to know about God” (Col. 2:2, The Message). For the past ten years we’ve been offering this as a weekend retreat, hosting one to three retreats per year. The purpose? To remind LGBTQ+ Christians of how loved we are by God. To go deeper in our relationship with God. To keep us connected to the Body of Christ.
That’s not easy, when so many LGBTQ+ people have been made to feel we have no place with God.
And yet, more and more LGBTQ+ people are coming to these retreats. Nearly 40 this last weekend, from all over the globe.
At a time in our world when we long for connection, for community more than ever before, this past retreat provided just that. Managing 40 people on a Zoom call for several hours over two days was a challenge, but thanks to everyone participating besides me, the technology worked like a charm. I had to be told to unmute myself a few times, but that’s what happens when you’re the oldest one in the group!
We were joined by authors Karen Keen, Justin Lee, and Matthew Vines, all leaders in the LGBTQ+ Christian movement. Karen led us in times of prayer and spiritual reflection to open each session, and she and Justin and Matthew each shared their thoughts on what sustains our faith. Everyone shared their personal stories in small groups on Friday night, and on Saturday we had time for reflection in small groups. After lunch we came back for a question and answer session with Karen, Justin, Matthew, and me.
As tired as I get of Zoom calls these days, this format was amazing for bringing people together who otherwise might not get to be present. Such a diverse group, in terms of age and faith communities, and yet we found common ground to bind us together.
Not our sexuality, because our stories are all different.
What united us is Jesus.
I witnessed this in the older set of folded hands and bowed head of one of the attendees during one of the prayer times Karen led. Later in our small group I learned his story. Raised in a secular Jewish family, he came to know Christ decades ago through his now husband. His love for the Lord was abundant, as was his husband’s.
If we had come together for just this couple, it would’ve been enough.
Listening to Karen, Justin, and Matthew sharing their hearts around what sustained their faith, I couldn’t help but think what my life might have been like had I heard them speak when I was young. In my twenties when I was wrestling with my sexuality, distraught as to how I would resolve my faith with what I’d always been taught about homosexuality, I would’ve given anything to have heard these three. Because it’s obvious that they love Jesus. They are committed followers of Christ.
And they are grounded deeply in the Word of God.
While I soaked in their messages, I thought how wonderful it was to have young twenty-somethings present who still want to hold onto their faith, and how inspirational it was for all of us to know we’re not alone. To know there are other LGBTQ+ Christians out there in the world who want desperately to hold onto our faith. Who love God and have no desire to walk away.
Watching the faces of participants in their twenties, some just barely starting life on their own as young adults, I was both inspired and challenged. I am inspired by their faithfulness, by their continued desire to stay connected to fellow believers and to remain an integral part of the Body of Christ.
Even when the past has told them, ‘no, you don’t belong here.’
Even when the present has told them, ‘come in, but only if…’
If we had put this online gathering of Christian LGBTQ+ people together, just for these young ones, it would’ve been more than worth it.
And here is where I feel most challenged…
We had almost 40 people willing to pay to attend an online gathering of fellow Christians – to hear from Christian LGBTQ+ leaders about what keeps us connected to God and how we have been able to hold onto our faith. They’re starved such for this kind of fellowship that they’ll spend three hours on Friday night and another four hours on a Saturday to stay on Zoom and listen. To take notes. To stay engaged.
Because people are starved both to belong to a faith community and to hear over and over again what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To be immersed in scripture and to apply the teachings of Christ to our own lives. To be discipled.
Like Justin did when he talked about Jesus’ emphasis on loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, and forgiving people who hurt you.
Like Matthew did when he reminded us that Jesus calls people in same-sex relationships to the same sexual ethic that he calls people in opposite sex relationships to – one that is rooted in self-sacrificial love, and only in covenant – relationships that are monogamous, faithful, and for life.
Like Karen did when she prayed Psalm 139 over us.
Because we all need to be discipled. For a lifetime.