Community Spotlight | Story Call Volunteers
Eden Invitation started our online presence with a simple little landing page and “An Invitation to the Longing Ones.” That blog post was, and still is, just that– an invitation. But when someone with an LGBT+ experience answers the invitation and travels all the way to our metaphorical door– our community contact page– who answers it?
The first person they encounter is Andrew Reinkenmeyer, our New Engagement Coordinator. From that first email, Andrew schedules their first step into the Eden Invitation community– a Story Call.
“Story Calls are the very first encounter someone will have with a member of Eden Invitation, and are thus very meaningful - even sacred.” Andrew shares. While the process looks like they are coming to our door, really, Eden Invitation volunteers are the ones being invited into that person’s life. “We get to know them, honor their stories, and offer a place for them to process. For many, it is their first time sharing their experiences out loud with another person. Others are looking for a way to come back to the Church while remaining their authentic selves. Each person's story is unique!”
Hundreds of people have reached out to Eden Invitation, no matter where they’re at regarding the Church’s teaching on sexuality and gender. Each person deserves this space to process and ask questions, but that is a large commitment. Thankfully, God in His Goodness meets us in the gap, and even sends us to help Him fill it!
What started as a team of two has grown to a team of seven Story Call Volunteers. These are community members, and each one answered this invitation to serve through their own unique story.
Andrew started as a community member himself before joining the Eden Invitation staff. He read the first blog post not long after it was published. It wasn’t until 2020 that he had his Story Call. “When I finally decided to reach out to Eden Invitation, it was the first time I felt seen and known as my whole self.” At that time, Shannon Ochoa and Raquel, a community member and intern, were the only two receiving Story Calls. “My call with Raquel that day was a definitive - yet subtle - turning point in my life. She received me so well! I didn't even know how to talk about my experiences yet, but I knew I could be myself.”
Sarah first encountered Eden Invitation in 2021. She was nervous before her own Story Call. “I had never been received well by someone of faith regarding my same-sex desires. But Raquel received me with such grace, and I found comfort and acceptance in a way I never had before. I finally felt God in the presence of my experience.”
Ana Laura, who receives story calls in English and Spanish, remembers the first time she heard of Eden Invitation: “I attended the Virtual Theology of the Body Conference in 2020. Anna Carter gave a presentation sharing her own story. I was so moved– I had to know more!” She reached out through our online contact page. She remembers what it was like in her own Story Call, “I was in awe! Being received with such empathy, patience, not being judged… That call helped me to grow in awareness of the gift I am, and to feel how God was showing up in my life through these hard experiences.”
For M and Francis, it was easier for each of them to reach out because they knew some of our community members already. “I encountered Eden Invitation at SEEK 2019,” M shares. That in-person encounter started a journey of prayer and discernment for him. When he did have his story call, “[it] made me feel so welcomed within the community.”
Francis was good friends with one of our community members. “I was blessed that [she] served as my Story Intake Caller.” He shares, “She was the person who introduced me to Eden Invitation, so having her be the one to welcome me into the community was exactly what I needed as I made this new commitment in my life of faith.”
Some people need a bit more time before they accept the invitation. Katie has a special appreciation for those who share that journey. “I first encountered Eden Invitation through a podcast and social media [in 2019], and started as a donor before I could embrace my own sexuality with compassion; it was easier to support other disciples with an LGBT+ experience than to get honest with myself. I admired their freedom and joy, and I wanted to taste that for myself. One grace of the pandemic was the space to reflect, and I eventually scheduled my story call in 2020.”
“I had already been invited to live a life of celibacy, yet same-sex desires still brought up so much shame for me. I’m grateful that Jesus leaves nothing untouched. I felt so seen and encouraged on my story call, a real step in letting Jesus love away the shame and begin to show me how this one area of my life was not something to hide from Him, but rather another avenue to His Heart.”
Many people with LGBT+ experiences desire not just to be seen and loved, but also to share this love by seeking to serve others. We desire to give ourselves to others, but there hasn’t always been clear guidance showing us how to do it well. Eden Invitation seeks to empower our community members for creative discipleship– in their own personal communities and within Eden Invitation itself. After being involved in our online book clubs, each of these community members saw our call for volunteers through our online community forum.
Sarah is one of five new Story Call volunteers who were trained this January. She applied to be a volunteer because she wants to serve others through this particular part of our mission. “Eden Invitation has this beautiful way of overflowing people’s cups. I think this comes from the community’s unique ability to address an unmet need of LGBTQ+ Catholics by allowing them to lay down the cross that has brought them so much heartache their entire lives. This allows Eden Invitation to be a true resting place for those in need. It has lit me on fire for the Lord and filled me with a joyful hope that has been forever outpouring. What a beautiful gift it is to love and receive others as I have been!”
Our more experienced Story Call volunteers have a similar view. Katie shares, “The most exciting part of this role is the sacred ground I am invited onto by meeting different people and hearing their unique stories, and reminding them of the truth of who they are - unique, unrepeatable, not alone, and not exempt from a joyful life,” Katie adds. “Every person is a joy and it is no exaggeration to say that story calls are a highlight of my week!”
Through the work and openness of these and other volunteers, Eden Invitation has tripled our capacity to receive people with LGBT+ experiences through Story Calls. Being the first face people see is no small role. We asked our Story Call team how people who support our mission and community could help. Each one responded with a request for your prayers:
“I think the hardest thing will be to not walk away with a heavy heart after hearing people’s stories.” Sarah shares. “So many LGBTQ+ Christians have felt hurt and pain due to their experience…But at the end of the day, God is working in their hearts.”
Francis shared that it can be difficult to receive people with different experiences of sexuality and gender. He asks for your prayers; “I would love to have the grace to offer them the care and understanding they are due.”
Ana Laura asks for the grace to know how to answer each person’s questions and how to encourage people “to have Hope even in the midst of all their hard experiences or things they don’t understand right now.”
“I would ask for prayers for openness to the Holy Spirit,” Katie adds. “[I want] to be obedient to any way He wants to work through me to receive better the person He has entrusted me with.”
These story callers have been received and empowered in community. Now they long to do the same for others. We look forward to seeing what God will do in the hearts of those we're receiving now and in the future. Who knows, maybe these volunteers receive your story or a loved one's story down the road!
The invitation is there, and we’re ready to meet you at the door.