Guiding Others in Joyful Hope | Retreat Pastoral Team 2023
Last month, we were blessed to receive 75 participants at our Joyful Hope retreat. (If you want to read more about what it was like to be a participant, read October’s Good Fruit article here!) To receive these participants well, we needed a Pastoral Team– men and women with the gifts and training needed to make space for each unique and unrepeatable person to experience belonging and encounter hope. Our Eden Invitation staff was joined by priests, religious, counselors, and other allies. Though they may not all have experiences of same-sex desires, gender discordance, or asexuality, they see how God is building a community of striving disciples through the mission of Eden Invitation and want to walk with us.
So what does an EI Retreat Pastoral Team do?
Well, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…” (Romans 12:6). Our full-time staff (currently Anna, Shannon, David, Andrew, and Bernadette) prepares the retreat structure, coordinates logistics and tech, and some will give talks depending on the needs of the retreat. We often have one or two friends of the EI community help with these logistics as well.
The priests who join us provide mass, lead Adoration, hear confessions, offer spiritual direction, and give some of the talks. Religious brothers and sisters and those with counseling backgrounds may also give talks, and they are available for “Life Chats”– not therapy sessions, but a space to process with someone. Eden Invitation does not offer therapy, though we know from experience about the difficulties often present in people’s unique stories. Encountering God in a retreat can bring up those difficult topics, and it can help to process those with someone who is trained to receive the difficult and the beautiful parts of our stories.
While the Pastoral Team encounters and guides our participants in these ways, we are also deeply integrated throughout the retreat. From co-leading a small group alongside a community member volunteer to joining in socials like karaoke, board games, and our TalenTED community show– the Pastoral Team isn’t just here to serve but to build community alongside those with LGBTQ+ experiences. Several of them have served on our Pastoral Team before, like Fr. Nathan Hall. (You may remember him from our Stories of Impact series this past spring!)
Fr. Nathan, a priest from the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, first heard of Eden Invitation while he was teaching in 2018, “I noticed [in myself] a deep desire for this ministry to thrive…God made it abundantly clear He was asking me to help in any way possible, even if it was just to donate and pray.” For several years, he shared our mission with others, but he soon realized he wanted to, and could, do even more by serving on the Pastoral Team.
In 2022, he joined the Pastoral Team for the first time and has joined us for several events since then. This year, he gave the first talk on Friday morning: “Dealing with Dissonance.” Often when we struggle in the spiritual life, we can start to think there’s “something wrong with us.” This isn’t always the case! There are several recurring stages in the spiritual life, and struggle is part of that. As Fr. Nathan shares, “It feels like Christians are implicitly taught to hold back and ignore these internal places of dissonance, which is the exact opposite of what needs to happen.”
Identifying and acknowledging those places where we may feel hopeless is the first step into Joyful Hope– believing that God is present in our past and present and that His plan for our future is good. “I hope that people are not afraid of the dissonance they experience with God, His Church, or His teachings,” Fr. Nathan explains, “God loves every part of your heart, even the places you think you can't talk about because they don't perfectly line up with Jesus’ teachings at this time…Some of the best fruits in my life came from when I was in conflict with Christ, but then I went to Him to work it out. Sometimes, these are the best places to start to really develop a deeper, meaningful relationship with God.”
We were also blessed to add new members to our Pastoral Team for this retreat. Sr. Maria Gemma Salyer from the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration has known about our mission for a while, but recently got to know our co-founder, Anna Carter, “We were both part of a working group gathered by Dr. Abigal Favale. Anna reached out to me afterward and asked if I would join the Pastoral Team for retreat.”
Sister has had an interest in serving those with LGBTQ+ experiences for a while, though she’s not entirely sure where it came from, “The Lord just kept putting these things on my heart– that I need to stand in the gap because there's these two disparate ends…” In conversations around faith and sexuality, the extremes often seem the loudest: if you have an LGBTQ+ experience you either reject the Church and its teachings completely, or you bury this part of your life if you want to be a good disciple. In reality, the way forward is much more balanced, but those nuances often go unexamined. Eden Invitation is a community of Christian disciples with LGBTQ+ experiences seeking to live lives of faithful obedience and joyful hope, so we live and serve in that “gap” area. As Sr. Maria Gemma continues, “...You [the community of Eden Invitation] can’t be the only ones there…I feel called to hold that tension and stand in that gap too.”
When she met the retreatants, Sister saw immediately how people noticed her as a new face and welcomed her immediately, “You all at Eden Invitation do a great job at fostering community…There's a lot of freedom and grace for each other and there are not a lot of communities that have that kind of spirit.”
“I have no doubt in my mind that this ministry is rooted in the Gospel. It’s answering a call that translates the Gospel to the needs of the modern world.”
We are so grateful for Sr. Maria Gemma, Fr. Nathan, and our entire Pastoral Team! And thank you to those of you who donated to support them this year. They wouldn’t have been able to serve our retreatants without your generosity and prayers!