During the Phoenix convention, I entered many holy spaces: transcendent moments of worship; a spontaneous prayer circle in the prayer room; a beautiful, historic sanctuary on our border trip; a conversation with a new friend over lunch in the dining hall, a prayer walk through the city. I am particularly grateful for the holy spaces of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) inclusion present at the conference--spaces that many people worked hard to create and maintain throughout the week. These were the spaces that, for me, revealed most vividly the heart of our conference theme: "Strangers and aliens no more." These were the spaces that witnessed most eloquently to the fact that, in Christ, the dividing walls of hostility have been brought down.
One such inclusive space was the Pink Menno/BMC (Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBTQ Concerns) hospitality room in one of the conference hotels. It was the home base for pink T-shirts and bracelets, for song books and queer-friendly workshops. And more than that, the hospitality room was a haven. It was a place where I could listen and speak without the need to fear or filter. It was a place where I could sit down next to anyone and know they were a friend.
One young man I met in the hospitality room told me how much he loved his home congregation. Many people in his church, he said, would probably say, if pushed, that homosexuality is a sin. Still, they welcomed him as a gay man in the congregation and were thrilled to have him share his energy and gifts in the service of the church. "I love them and they love me." And that is holy space indeed.
Other holy inclusive spaces were the brief worship services at noon each day in the main conference center--organized by the Open Letter Pastors (now the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors Leadership Team). I led one of these services--just a handful of people forming a circle as the hubbub of the larger conference swirled around us. We heard sacred words from Isaiah:
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Together we listened to scripture and offered song; we confessed our sin and knew forgiveness. We rejoiced in the invitation: "Come to the table. Jesus offers the bread and the cup to all who come, so let us gather around the table with joy!". And together we received the words of Paul as our blessing:
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3: 18-19)
And, of course, I found sacred space in the hymn sings outside the convention room. The Pink Mennos, who are working toward changes that would make our church more open to LGBTQ Mennonites and their allies, led these impromptu, multi-generational choirs in the cherished tradition of a capella, four-part harmony hymn-singing. It was, in a word, glorious. I felt like I should take off my shoes every time we sang.
Perhaps the most holy space for me was the inclusive worship service held on Tuesday night of the convention. Like the noon worship gatherings, this time of worship was coordinated by the Open Letter Pastors. Unlike the noon gatherings, this service packed out the hotel ballroom we had rented at the last minute when we realized the hospitality room would not be big enough for our gathered community.
The worship leader exuded a spirit of hospitality that opened our spirits to the very real presence of God in our midst. The singing was miraculous. The sermon, which I preached in partnership with my friend Ron Adams, explored what it means to believe and trust our theme scripture: that "in [Christ’s] flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."
And then people gathered in circles around the room to share communion; to remember and enact the final meal that Jesus shared with his friends before the crucifixion; to tell each other and to hear for ourselves: This is the body of Christ--for you. This is the cup of God’s new covenant--with you. These are words I have heard my entire life and words that I generally take for granted. But in that sacred convention space, I was aware of speaking them to people who have not always heard words of blessing from the church. I was aware of hearing these words spoken boldly by people who the church has attempted to silence.
In these sacred inclusive spaces of the Phoenix convention, I glimpsed God at work. I give thanks for the people who made these spaces possibly and pray for the day when they are no longer needed.