Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Big Fat Greek Wedding - Gay Christian Network style

I attended the Gay Christian Network's (GCN) 11th conference in Portland, Oregon at the end of last week. There were 1300 registered attendees, perhaps 1500 people attending in total, from 46 states and 11 countries. I came to learn about their communication strategies, their pastoral work, and their education efforts, and to network in my role as Director of Communications and Board member of IntegrityUSA. Matt Haines, President of the Board of Directors for IntegrityUSA, attended with me. I also attended with my heart and mind opened by the Episcopal Church and by my heavy participation at All Saints Pasadena.

The conference began under Justin Lee to meet the needs of the evangelical community. When I say evangelical in this context, I am using the popular meaning. I consider myself a progressive evangelical which, to the media, would seem an oxymoron at best, a cognitively dissonant impossibility at worst. But that's what I consider myself to be, as many who attend All Saints Pasadena probably do as well.

The GCN attendance has expanded to attract mainline and Catholic attendees now. Though its prayers sessions have a Baptist or Pentacostal feel, the Sunday communion service was broad enough to offer grape juice as well as wine, and provided a Eucharist for those who prefer consubstantiation as well as transubstantiation.

And that's what made the conference so powerful to me. It was broad and inclusive and completely loving. Rachel Held Evans, a popular writer that I follow on Twitter, has tweeted "I don’t just look to #GCNConf for how to better engage LGBT issues. I look to #GCNConf for how to be a better Christian." This was exactly how many of us felt at the Portland Convention Center. We weren't learning and living and reconciling and sharing as LGBT-only people. We were the church community, all together, whether straight, gay, bi, trans, or questioning.

We were Christians first: Christians who were grappling to live out our calling and faith while living with the reality that we or people we loved are LGBT.

There were astonishingly profound speakers. We listened and wept at the amazing first plenary talk by Jeff Chu, author of "Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America". We listened and wept as Danny Cortez, Pastor of La Mirada's New Heart Community Church, shared his journey from a Southern Baptist anti-LGBT congregation to LGBT affirming. And we listened and wept as musician and theologian Vicky Beeching described her journey, which continues to this day. 

It wasn't a sobfest. We laughed and nodded in understanding at their stories. Those attending seemed to relate at a deeply personal level at the struggles faced. And I got to break bread with many who shared these stories, whether by reconnecting with friends, like H Adam Ackley who I hadn't seen since my wedding, or meeting new ones such as other Episcopalians from throughout this great country.

As a marked contrast to the beauty of this faithful pastoral care for each other, we also were confronted with a well known Westboro protest group from Kansas, best known for picketing at funerals of victims and soldiers. Thankfully, a wall of love was erected by local churches. These churches, having heard of the sound-bite protesters, created by their presence a wall of safety so that attendees could pray in peace. This is love made manifest.

And above the protesters, God brought forth his promised reminder that we will always be loved and never destroyed: an enormous double rainbow that spanned across the whole sky. I won't post a photo of the protesters, as that just affirms and enables them. Instead, I just show the symbol of God's eternal love, a literal wink wink of irony at the scene played out below.

I am deeply happy and a fuller, more understanding Christian to have met so many loving people. The parents and family of LGBT who attended were a clear sign that the Holy Spirit was working her way through us. Near the end of the conference, GCN's Justin Lee unveiled a new amazing, loving program which will invite everyone and anyone, regardless of LGBT concerns, to help find ways to help the LGBT teen homelessness epidemic.

And the best part of it all was that we weren't a monolithic, group-think assembly of people. The diversity was astonishing, whether by ethnicity, age, Christian faith tradition, "outness", or income. I had people asking me about the Episcopal Church and how we handled LGBT. I spoke with people who asked me to pray so that they'll be granted the strength, wisdom, and courage to bring up LGBT issues to their churches. I prayed with those who knew that honesty about their sexuality might risk losing the ministry that they cherished and loved.

It's like that movie that came out in the 90s called My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The romantic comedy played up romance and the wedding of a quiet Anglo-American with a Greek-American from a large immigrant family. Normally, as a Filipino-American, I'm used to being the one who comes from the loud ethnic family and dating someone who comes from more reserved American background. At the GCN conference, however, the reserved Christianity that is often found in the Episcopal Church stood in sharp contrast to the hands-in-the-air families from other Protestant churches. On the face of it, it just seemed like it wouldn't work.

But it did work. And for Christians to live out their calling among LGBT realities, it has to work, every day, in every community. It worked because we were in that thin-space where love washes over every and all wounds.

We are all welcome to the table of love. We cannot choose to eject someone, for the Gospels say that we are all invited. In fact, the least of us are meant to be at the head of the table. The Christian love I found at this conference renewed and filled me in a way as deeply meaningful as my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

May all those who walk this journey be strengthened by our Christian love and communities.


  1. Wow, this is so beautiful...and made even more powerful with the appearance of the double rainbow. I am so excited to hear about this conference and the spirit of love and acceptance that shall rise above ignorance and stereotypes.

    1. <3 Thanks Melissa! Great to see you a couple weeks ago!

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