Life changing…one by one people came up to the microphone and stated this as their experience over the weekend….but I am getting ahead of myself.
Trying to put into words what I experienced is proving to be extremely difficult. There is so much that I am still processing. As I mentioned in my New Year post, I attended the Gay Christian Network conference last weekend. (You can actually watch the keynote speakers if you click on the link and I would highly recommend it.)
I almost didn’t make it. I had been sick for almost a week and I was supposed to leave on Thursday. I was feeling like I was getting better on Wednesday only to wake up at 2am on Thursday feeling awful. We were supposed to leave at 11:30am and I just knew that was NOT going to happen. I was really disappointed and went into a bit of a panic. You see…I have wanted to go to this conference since I first learned about it back in 2013. I had just one problem. I don’t like to fly (or at least I wouldn’t fly back then) and the conferences were always too far away to drive to…except this year. It was being held in Pittsburgh and that is only a 4 hour drive from my house. So when I woke up sick on Thursday I was devastated. Truly devastated.
I did every homeopathic remedy I knew and could find on the internet. I was squirting saline solution up my nose, doing hot compresses on my face (my sinuses were locked up), took cold medicine to help break things up, took every vitamin known to man, tapped on my sinus pressure points (which was extremely painful) all day on Thursday. Low and behold I woke up feeling much better on Friday. It wasn’t gone, but with some cold medicine it was doable so we loaded up the car (Mike, Kyle/Kai and I) and headed out.
The weekend was everything I thought it would be and more. We got there and had some lunch and then went to a breakout session. There were lots to choose from with different topics and speakers. Mike decided to go to one just for dads, and Kyle and I chose one called “Making Faith Transitions.” It was really good and he and I got to meet some new people and hear their stories. After a break, we all went to a session called “Being an LGBT Ambassador and Bridge Builder.” Really good stuff. The three of us went out to dinner after that and came back in time for a candlelight vigil. We were asked to speak names of people that we knew that had been impacted by violence this past year. Then there was time spent where every name from the Pulse massacre were read. Hearing all of their names spoken out loud one by one was very powerful.
The next morning the conference started with about a half hour of worship. To say you could feel the spirit of God there is an understatement. If you’ve never worshiped with people who are unable to worship elsewhere, there is nothing like it on earth. I have to believe that because it is so moving, so holy, and truly spirit led. For some, this was the first time in a long time they were able to use their God given gifts to worship because at home that privilege has been stripped from them. A lot of people in the room with me had been told they can’t be gay and Christian. I’m here to tell you…yes…yes they can.
The wonderful Bishop Gene Robinson was the keynote speaker. His story is amazing. You should listen to it when you get a chance. We liked it so much we decided to go to his Q&A for our first breakout session. We learned even more there. Wow…what that man has been through. Amazing strength and determination. But first we went out to lunch with my lovely friend that I met at the Reformation Project back in 2014 who happened to be at the conference. It was so nice to see her in person again and catch up on our lives.
The last breakout session that we attended was led by Kathy Baldock called “Untangling the Mess: A Historical Look at LGBTQ Discrimination.” Man…lots of information in there. A lot of it (if not all of it) is in her book titled “Walking the Bridgeless Canyon” which I have listed in my resources. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed.
I got to meet some moms from the private FB group that I am part of that I’ve mentioned here before. It was so nice to hug the necks of so many women that I’ve chatted with in cyberspace. It was so funny because more than once I heard, “I thought you would be taller.” (smile)
There was a big white board out in the lobby area of the convention center meeting space that people could write prayer requests on sticky notes. The other side was for sticky notes of encouragement for people that needed to hear positive affirmations. I left that board in tears for many reasons. And of course there were the mom hugs. I wore my “Free Mom Hugs” button and they gave us moms, and dads if they wanted, time to stand in the hall to be there for anyone who needed a supportive hug. Now some people were really social and came down the line collecting hugs and that was really fun. But when someone hugged you, you could tell the ones that really needed it. Their hug felt different. We had one middle aged gentlemen tell us he hadn’t had a hug from his mom since he was sixteen. Tears…
All of this had a true impact on me, but nothing could prepare me for the open mic portion of Saturday night. It lasted for 3 hours. It didn’t feel that long to me. Person after person got up there and talked about abuse…some physical, some emotional, some spiritual…some all of the above. Kids kicked out of their homes. Buying one way tickets to far away places. Many receiving letters from their churches telling them they are no longer welcome because they are dangerous. Letters. Not a face to face conversation. Some had been attending their church for over 20 years. It was hard to sit there. Some of their stories were brutal to hear. I felt heartbreak, sadness, lots of anger…well outrage really. So many stories of attempted or thought about suicides. Too many. But then came the joy. What this weekend meant for them. For some they had only recently learned about GCN. This was the first time in years for some that they could truly be themselves. A place where they felt truly accepted, affirmed, and most of all loved. Many described the conference as life changing. It uplifted them to help them face what they had to go back to at home.
I have to admit it’s a bit depressing being home. I wish I could live at that conference forever. I wish I attended a completely affirming church at home. But if I feel this way, I can’t even IMAGINE what the LGBTQ individuals who attended the conference feel like being home. It breaks my heart to even think about it. I’ve been praying for them all week. It has to be so incredibly hard for some of them.
I hope I’ve been able to give you a small glimpse into what this conference was like. It really is hard to explain and maybe I will go into greater detail at some point. Like I said…I am still processing. Next year it will be in Denver…and although I’m still not a fan of flying…I’m going. I can’t imagine ever missing one.
So I leave you with this…love one another because love matters more than you can know or even imagine…