Called to Serve | Meet PeterSimon, Book Club Guide
Many of our mission partners have asked the question, “When someone gets in touch with Eden Invitation, what happens?” Maybe a person is moved by the testimony they encounter in one of our Porch series videos, or they hear about Eden Invitation from a friend, or perhaps they stumble across our social media account. Mustering up the courage, he or she fills out the contact form on our website and clicks “send.” What happens next?
First, we always offer an initial phone or video call to those reaching out with an LGBT+/SSA experience. This is a chance to receive his or her story, answer his or her questions, and just get to know one another. After that, if the person is interested in getting involved and one of our seasonal book clubs is around the corner, we’ll invite them to consider jumping in. In book club, odds are good that new Eden Invitation participants will get the chance to meet one of our trained volunteer Book Club Guides, like PeterSimon.
For PeterSimon, becoming a Book Club Guide was a natural next step to help make what he’s grown to love about Eden Invitation more accessible to his fellow disciples in the Church.
“When I first dipped my toe into the wonderful world of Eden Invitation, I came into it already with a high amount of excitement, because this is something I’ve wanted for so long. I even tried to start my own thing, in my college ministry,” he said.
After joining his first-ever book club in Advent of 2020, PeterSimon was all in. “From the first meeting, the fact that I was in a setting with all these people who shared my experience and we didn’t even need to talk about it, it allowed me to be true to myself and not hide anything.”
In spite of starting medical school and shouldering all of the responsibility that goes along with that commitment, PeterSimon responded to God’s call on his heart to not only receive through Eden Invitation but also give back as a Book Club Guide. “Because I loved that feeling of the Holy Spirit acting upon me through this community,” he said, “I knew that I also wanted to be the hands that helped other people.”
After attending our all-day Relational Support Team training in February to learn both the technical and pastoral aspects of the Book Club Guide role, PeterSimon co-led his first book club this summer and is now leading a group on his own this fall.
“My primary goal [as a Book Club Guide] is for people to feel mutual belonging. It’s like, it’s more than just a safe space; it’s a space where you’re able to allow God to work in your life in ways you never thought were possible, especially for people like us.”
Through his role as a volunteer and also as a member of the EI community, PeterSimon began to recognize themes in the general experience of EI members. He pointed to a tendency he observed for people “to compartmentalize this part of themselves, whether it be actively or passively,” not integrating their experience of sexuality and/or gender into their broader walk of discipleship. His book club experience, and one that he hopes others can have as well, allowed him to dive into looking at this part of his life. “So many people decide to look for those answers in not-so-great ways… Having EI with me as I jumped in, for really the first time, I felt so safe and secure, rather than scared and alone.” Ensuring that other young adults who share his experience also have this opportunity has become part of PeterSimon’s own personal mission, as well.
And on the levels of personality as well as spiritual gifts, PeterSimon has felt particularly suited to his role as Book Club Guide in the community. “I am a self-proclaimed raging extrovert. I love being able to talk about difficult as well as sensitive topics and I love to be able to chat with people, especially those who have questions that I’ve had before.” He further commented, “My primary charism is pastoring and I feel like in things like [book club], I’m able to really see the fruits of the Holy Spirit work through me in being able to foster the sense of community [and] to help people feel loved and to feel wanted.”
Part of the training for Book Club Guides is learning how to receive and accompany people from a diversity of life experiences and perspectives, even in the midst of all being LGBT+ disciples. This diversity has been a blessing to PeterSimon in his time serving the community. “There is such a wide gamut of beautiful people with such different experiences… [There can be] someone who is super devout, and prays the Rosary every day, and wants to dedicate their life to the Church and the mission, and then there are others who are teetering and aren’t sure what they believe. I feel like book club is able to provide that space to challenge each other, in a space that is safe where there can be complete honesty.”
Book Club Guides like PeterSimon and the 30+ volunteer members of our Relational Support Team play an integral role in this growing movement in the Church. By committing to welcome and walk with new Eden Invitation participants, they help to expand our reach and bless others through sharing their own unique and unrepeatable witnesses. In turn, they are blessed through the opportunity to experience anew the transforming power of Christ-centered community.
All of this is made possible through the generosity of our donors and mission partners. Through prayer, sacrifices, and financial gifts, EI supporters are helping to draw more young people to opportunities like Book Club, supporting the training and ongoing accompaniment of our volunteers, and ensuring that these online programs remain free of charge to all. As PeterSimon put it, “Our donors see but only a speck of the tangible goodness that they are providing us.”