Bringing all of yourself – LGBT Christian retreat day

OPEN TABLE, the monthly service for Liverpool’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* (LGBT) community at St Bride’s Liverpool, held its first Retreat Day last weekend.

Twelve regular participants in the Open Table service came together at the Cenacle Convent in Liverpool for a time of reflection on where we have come from as individuals and what it mean to be an LGBT  Christian.

Retired Reverend Colin Oxenforth, formerly of St Margaret’s Toxteth, led the day, drawing on his extensive experience of service to the LGBT community for as a volunteer with Friend Merseyside, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality.

The aim of the day was to look at what is it about our LGBT identify that shapes our spirituality and vice versa.

We began by reflecting on our life and spiritual journey by plotting a timeline and marking the highs and lows along the way, first by ourselves, then with another, and finally with the whole group.

The negative experiences we shared were:

  • Prejudice
  • Rejection
  • Need to be healed/delivered
  • Losing friends and family
  • Poor self image
  • ‘Bible is very clear’
  • Depression
  • Suppression
  • Loneliness
  • Keeping thing under cover
  • Denial
  • Guilt and shame
  • Expectations and conflicts
  • Fear
  • Struggle
  • Patronised
  • Double life
  • Secretive
  • Illness
  • Alcoholism
  • Addictions
  • Strains
  • Stress
  • Sadness
  • Existing
  • Pressure to Conform

There was much empathy and insight as we recalled these times of vulnerability.

Then we moved on to the positive outcomes, and were pleased to find there were more of these:

  • God bigger than ‘tradition’
  • Freedom
  • Liberation
  • Acceptance
  • Peace
  • At home
  • Being oneself
  • St Bride’s
  • Integrity
  • Love
  • Fellowship
  • Beauty
  • Recognising gifts
  • Solidarity
  • ‘Not the only one’
  • Justice
  • Hope
  • Honesty
  • New community
  • Safe place
  • Support
  • Like-minded people
  • Genuine friendships
  • Humour
  • Camp
  • Joy
  • Safety
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • New family
  • Coming out
  • New theology
  • Healing

Glimpsing what has shaped our sense of identity and spirituality helped us to look at ways we can express this through what we do at Open Table and elsewhere in our communities, focussing on the theme of bringing all of ourselves to God.

After a simple bring and share lunch we discussed how the Open Table community might develop after celebrating six years of monthly services this summer. This includes a desire for those who are able to meet more often, in monthly sharing groups to deepen the connections made at Open Table and beyond, and an interest in celebrating special liturgies to mark our rites of passage such as coming out, commitment to a partner and affirmation of gender identity.

We also shared news of requests from other areas in the UK for support to develop similar services for the LGBT community, our families, friends and allies, including a visit later this month to Canterbury at the invitation of the Bishop of Dover.

We ended the day with a simple Eucharist and departed with a beautiful blessing of affirmation:

As we leave this place,
we leave knowing that we are God’s own children.
All that we have and all that we are is a sacred trust from God.
From this moment on, let us live with gratitude for who we are and commit ourselves to honour each person as a beloved child of God.

Open Table is a simple monthly Christian service open to all people, but particularly for the LGBT community of Merseyside and those seeking a more inclusive church. For more details e-mail Warren: opentablelgbt@gmail.com

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