I’d like to share something with you.
On a cold January morning in 2009, I’m awakened around 3:00 a.m. by the ringing of my phone. Despite the late hour I answered to find it was my longtime friend Kevin. Kevin and I first met at a conservative Baptist university in Texas, where you could be publicly ridiculed—or worse—for even considering being out. We both had some strained friendships/relationships with other students just for the suspicion of being gay. We even attended the same church during college, and so much of our individual journeys overlapped in answering questions about how who we were fit into our Christian faith and lives.
Kevin began to talk excitedly about a conference he discovered for LGBTQ Christians, hosted by an organization called the Gay Christian Network. At the time, he was in grad school at an evangelical institution in southern California and still had many questions/doubts about sexuality, faith, and whether or not they were mutually exclusive. He stumbled upon the GCN Conference through an internet search and discovered the conference was close to his school, and decided to give it a chance. He told me it was an incredible weekend; full of fellowship, meeting wonderful people from all over the the world, and an environment/outlet where he felt he could be comfortable in his faith and his sexuality while sharing that experience with like-minded people.
“It was such an amazing time,” Kevin eagerly told me. “It’s going to be in your city next year, and I’m already claiming dibs on your couch. You should reach out to them to see if they need any help or recommendations.”
This was my introduction to GCN and to the GCN Conference. A month after that call I found myself in Columbus, OH meeting with Kevin and a number of his new GCN friends at a Midwest regional gathering. I quickly fell in love with this newfound community of friends, many of whom shared the same story of growing up in conservative spaces and not knowing how to handle the discovery that they may not follow the heteronormative narrative. I signed up for the GCN message boards, connected with local folks in Nashville, and by June I was helping plan the upcoming 2010 conference.
Over the next 8 years I would become more and more involved with GCN; leading our annual conference, supporting additional programming, and eventually joining the staff full-time in 2015. During the time I have spent with GCN, the largest blessing to me has been the support and understanding of our community as we navigate our life experiences and faith journeys. I have found some of my best friends through GCN and I cannot tell you the number of times someone has told me their life and their faith has been saved by the love, support, and encouragement they’ve received from the people that make up our communal family. In addition to books, videos, speakers, podcasts, and other resources created to help the LGBTQ faith community and allies, one of the core elements that makes our organization so incredible is the people. We are a community who comes together to laugh, cry, pray, celebrate, learn, teach, and grow together. It is this community that is the very foundation of GCN and its programs.
After the changes of this summer, it is understandable that some worry about whether or not GCN will be the same organization it was, and if programs such as the conference will continue to be high quality and a source of support and encouragement for the community. I’m here today to answer that question: Yes, it will be. Many of you know I left GCN earlier this year, but I’ve returned to help because I believe in this organization and most importantly, I believe in the community that GCN serves.
A few years ago , I went through a really difficult time. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, abusing both pain and sleeping meds to cope. I wasn’t sure I was going to see another birthday, or maybe even another month. The people who pulled me back from the darkness to see God’s blessings in my life and support me through my struggles were all from my GCN family, including many of the folks I had met in Columbus in 2009. I know firsthand the importance of this community, and that’s why I continue to dedicate myself to supporting it.
We are a family, and like any family, we go through our rough moments. Ultimately, we’re here for each other and I’m here for all of you. As are our volunteers, leaders, and staff who work to support the organization and pull together the conference. The commitment to each other as the body of Christ is what amazes and refreshes me year after year. Because of this, I’ve come back to help, and together with the rest of the volunteer leadership team, we’re working to make Denver another amazing experience for all of you.
So—if I may—I’d like to ask a few favors. First, if you’ve been unsure about whether to come to conference, I invite you to give it another chance. We have an amazing lineup of speakers and sessions planned alongside the community elements that make it so special. Second, please consider financially supporting GCN. GCN runs entirely on donations to not only support our community, but to create the resources that will help make churches more affirming to the LGBTQ community. There are some really wonderful things coming next year, including the second annual Parents Retreat and our first Youth Retreat, as well as other exciting programs that will be announced at conference. Third, we’d like to hear YOUR GCN story and how this community has been a part of your life. If you’re comfortable sharing, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if you’re willing for it to be shared in part or in whole. (And if not, that’s okay! We’d still like to hear it.)
It’s been a challenging year for us and there is still a lot of healing to do. But if we stay unified as a community, we’ll come through stronger than ever and we will be able to better support our LGBTQ faith family in the years to come. May each of you have a truly wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.