Community Spotlight | Book Club Guides
“Wait…There’s someone else like me?”
That is the initial reaction many of our community members had when they first found Eden Invitation’s website. That feeling of connectedness only deepened as they were welcomed in through our Story Calls. But our mission to create space to receive the whole person, build systems of mutual support, and empower for creative discipleship cannot be accomplished in just one conversation. Eden Invitation’s Book Clubs started as a way to continue and deepen the conversation and expand community for those who reached out.
Reading exposes us to ideas and experiences outside of ourselves. It can lift us up, opening new areas of our interior lives and shedding light on our individual journeys. Walking on this journey with others– talking through what we read–adds deeper layers of self-discovery and challenge, but also solidarity with people asking the same questions we are. In this way, Book Clubs are a space for small groups of striving LGBTQ+ disciples to meet weekly, sharing and learning from each other’s experiences and reflections on a particular spiritual book.
When we're on a journey, especially one with difficult terrain, it's important to have a guide! Each Eden Invitation Book Club is facilitated by a guide or two-- community members, each one with their own unique journey here, who have stepped forward to help create spaces for others in the same boat. As we step into another season of Book Clubs, 4 of our 20 trained Book Club Guides took a moment to share how God has moved in their own story and gifts to empower them in this particular aspect of our mission.
Katie became a community member through one of the earliest book clubs: “I first joined Eden Invitation in December 2018. The book was The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander.” This book club became a place of growth and mutual support for her. “After I got married to my husband, I realized I still experience attraction to other women and wanted a place to process that within a context that remained faithful to Church teaching. In that first Book Club, it was amazing to encounter people who were solidly Catholic but still had an LGBT+ experience. There was also another married person in my group, and I was glad that I was not the only one.”
Dudley first encountered Eden Invitation in 2020 when he saw our Advent Book Club on The Reed of God starting up again. “During a time of social isolation, I craved community. Raquel, our Book Club Guide, was incredibly welcoming and created an environment where I and the other participants could be vulnerable and let our hearts be known.”
PeterSimon, who has shared his story with the readers of Good Fruit before, also joined his first book club that Advent season, “In 2020, my local friend in Seattle told me about Eden Invitation and recommended that I check it out. I am still good friends with several of the folks that I met through that book club!”
Maité encountered Eden Invitation community members through the Courage Conference in the summer of 2020. “Raquel spoke about their Book Clubs and I was very interested. The group sounded so hopeful and there was such joy in her sharing. My first Book Club was incredible and we went deep fast. Sharing deeply and honestly about our lives was freeing and liberating.”
After building friendships and community through their book club small groups, they were all invited to join our online community platform. There they continued talking with the friends they had made and started meeting new ones. That’s also where they saw the announcement: Book Club Guide-Applications Open.
PeterSimon lept at the opportunity to serve. “I knew that I wanted to help Eden Invitation grow and continue to foster community and spiritual growth in folks that have LGBTQ+ experiences, but it was just a matter of how…One of my primary charisms is that of ‘pastoring’: to receive and accompany others as they journey in their faith and to empower them in their relationship with Christ within a specific Christian community. Out of all the roles within the Relational Support Team, being a Book Club Guide just felt right.” He has been a book club guide for several years now, “It is an indescribable blessing each and every time I meet someone new... Being one of the first people to interact with these folks is an honor. I love meeting new people in general, so this plays very well in my case being a self-proclaimed ‘debilitatingly extroverted’ individual.”
Being a Book Club guide has also used the gifts of some more introverted community members. “I love reading, writing, and talking about books! I am excited to get to know new people, each carrying a unique story and a variety of perspectives,” Dudley shares. His experience living abroad and studying other languages has given him confidence in helping us reach people in places outside the USA. This season, he’s guiding a group based in the New Zealand Standard Time zone. “I want to serve as a guide to create an environment where everyone can come as they are and be loved… I hope to help expand Eden Invitation's reach, both geographically and linguistically, giving more people around the world an opportunity to get involved. This community has done so much for me, now I want to give back.”
Maité became a Book Club Guide so she can walk with people who are in isolated areas. “I live in a very secluded place and Zoom has opened a whole new world of community to me. I saw it as an opportunity to serve even from a secluded part of the country.” Maité also co-guides a Book Club in Spanish, again widening the reach and opportunities available to people with LGBTQ+ experiences. “Serving as a Guide is entering into the Holy Ground of the lives of our members. It is witnessing God's work in their lives as they share their meditation of the readings, the struggles and lights that help bring integration to their spiritual life. It is exciting to be able to encourage and see the transformation of their hearts!”
While Book Clubs are primarily available for new participants, we do have particular Book Clubs offered to groups within the existing Eden Invitation Community. These are framed to dive deeper into experiences of spirituality, sexuality, and gender and how they integrate with one’s particular state in life. Katie stepped forward to serve as a Book Club guide specifically for those within Eden Invitation who are married to the opposite sex. “When a channel for married folks was formed, I wanted to facilitate discussions about marriage with an LGBT+ experience. It was determined a book club would be a great way to do that... I have led two book clubs for this group so far and it has been awesome to have discussions with other LGBT+ married folk and their spouses! I think the most exciting thing about serving in this role is watching couples grow more deeply in love with each other and Jesus, and in greater understanding with each other.”
Each of our volunteers is intentionally trained for both the technical and pastoral aspects of their specific role. Even in being a guide, you’re not done with the journey yourself. While we have regular Relational Support Team check-ins, we also asked these four if there were particular areas where you, our Mission Partners, could also help these Guides as they lead others to Christ.
“My spouse is no longer a practicing Catholic,” Katie shared. “Sometimes it’s lonely to see other couples growing in faith with each other when that is not happening with me and my husband. Please pray for his conversion. His name is Cody.”
Maité shared that it can be a challenge to grasp some of the newer vocabulary participants use to describe their experiences since “I'm a little older than them.” She also asks for your prayers for the Guides “that we always have a clean and prepared heart as we enter into the Holy Ground of our Book Club groups.”
PeterSimon added, “It is difficult when I encounter someone that has a different LGBTQ+ experience than I have — I try really hard to walk hand-in-hand with them, but whether I or they like it or not, there is a slight barrier between us that I could never breach. It is encouraging, however, when they are uplifted to hear that we have various smaller communities within the greater Eden Invitation community that they would be able to connect with others.”
Dudley has been a very experienced Book Club participant, but he was one of our four, newly-trained volunteers this January. He asks for your prayers as he enters into his role as a guide for the first time and for his journey with his group this Lenten season.
These four, along with the other 30+ volunteers on our Relational Support Team, have taken another step in their own unique journeys in discipleship. Eden Invitation’s value of Joyful Hope encourages our community members to both “celebrate the Holy Spirit’s creativity [in their] charisms and callings'' and “step into self-gift for [their] community, Church, and the world.” Thank you for empowering them to live their discipleship creatively!