Many friends have written eloquent thoughts on the recent #revoice18 conference so I hesitated to put any words onto the page. But in most of the circles I routinely run in, few people have ever heard the words Side-B, celibate gay Christian or mixed-orientation marriage. So it seems valuable to add a few more words.
My husband and I attended the conference with two friends. One is the woman who shares a home with us (Kristen) and the other is a close friend (Zeke). They are both celibate gay Christians and we have the incredible privilege of doing life with them.
So many have written about the amazing, humbling worship and the practical, gut wrenchingly honest teaching. But I want to write about my experience as a 50-something, straight woman attending Revoice. And the one word I would use to describe the time & space: Hospitality.
When I first think of hospitality, I picture someone inviting me to their house for dinner. That is probably what we all most commonly think.
But I want to describe some different kinds of feelings and experiences that I would lump under the umbrella of hospitality.
First was the open door of Memorial Presbyterian Church. Volunteers, long hours of serving, cleaning and awesome efficiency literally opened the doors for 450+ attendees to feel welcome and safe. I work at a summer camp that hosts rentals & retreats all year round. I know how much work it is to have 450 people in your space, feed them 2 meals a day and make sure they all have toilet paper. Hospitality.
I served the first couple of hours welcoming those who were registering and then plopped myself into a pew for worship. Immediately I had a sense of not belonging. The worship was so powerful. I know the stories of the two friends that I came with and as I looked around I could envision the struggle and pain in those around me. Sacrifice. Desire to walk faithfully. I felt humbled and out of place. I’m basically friendly and outgoing so I’d chatted with several people already and ventured sharing some of what I was feeling with one person. “I’m straight, and in the area of sexuality it feels like I’ve had it so easy. What am I doing here?”
As she took a minute to ‘tell me about myself’ (a phrase teens I know use when they have filled someone’s ear about how they see them!), and explained that I did belong and that I was welcome, I realized it again: Hospitality.
All weekend long I felt open spaces for conversation, peaceful questions and many, many hugs. I cried as I listened and shared. I cried during worship. I was myself and I was welcome. Hospitality.
Prior to the conference I had read snippets here and there from Christians expressing concern and displeasure over the event of the conference, over the ways that people describe themselves and general fear that this event and ‘these people’ (many of them listed by name) were encouraging the Evangelical Church to slide into hypocrisy and sin. I could only read bits and pieces because I would get so, so angry. I have known my housemate, Kristen for 17 years. We have lived together the past 7+ years. During good, bad and hard times, we have seen the truth in each other. The woman loves Jesus and works to walk faithfully daily. I have witnessed the encouragement brought to her when she can spend time with other Side-B Christians who can so easily identify with her.
As a lover of the Body of Christ, I so deeply believe that all the parts of the body should show concern for each other. We should not be the ones tearing faithful people down.
But despite the criticism, during the conference I experienced it again: Hospitality. Over and over it amazed me: Hospitality.
From up front and from those I was sitting next to in the pews, the concerns were addressed. Charitably, evenly, and often with loving tones. Was there some frustration? Yes. But the joy of being all together crowded out any mean spiritedness. The gratefulness of the space overwhelmed criticism.
In most cultures Hospitality is expressed with welcome into homes. Without the use of words, opening our doors and our tables to someone tells them something. It communicates a lot. Here in St. Louis, Hospitality was communicated with welcome into lives. Into struggles. Into victories.
I left Memorial Presbyterian changed that weekend. Pondering deeply how this hospitality could be reflected in my life, in our home and in our and in our city.