Community Spotlight | Hearth Group Coordinators
Nearly 6 years ago, Eden Invitation started a simple online presence, but people were not made for Zoom rooms alone. There has always been the hope of growing consistent community and systems of support for striving disciples with LGBTQ+ experiences in-person as well as online. In 2020, the OSV Innovation Challenge launched that dream into reality. Eden Invitation won a $100,000 grant to launch the Hearth and Porch Initiative– a plan to expand our community opportunities through regional groups and to expand the reach of this invitation through testimony videos. We have seen rapid growth through this dual initiative!
Our Porch Series was the first visible fruit of this grant, launched in the Fall of 2021. However, in the Summer of 2021, we trained our first group of Hearth Group Coordinators. To continue fostering the growth of these regional groups, David Neira was hired as our Community Coordinator in 2022. Now, in under two years since its launch, Eden Invitation has 9 established Hearth Groups meeting regularly across the United States: West Coast (online), Denver (local), Great Plains (online), Twin Cities, MN (local), Southern Wisconsin+Chicago (Multi-Site), South Bend (local), Michigan (Multi-site), Florida (Multi-Site), Appalantic (East Coast, online).
“Eden Invitation is a lay-led apostolate rather than a parish-based program, so the starting process for a Hearth Group is a little different than other organizations. It’s very organic,” David explains.
“Every community member starts their involvement in Eden Invitation with a one-on-one Story Call with one of our staff members or trained volunteers. From there, the person can get involved through our retreat or online book club. Once we have a number of people in a given area who are involved in Eden Invitation, then we look into forming a Nook (part of a regional chapter) or a local Hearth Group.”
All of our Hearth Groups are led by trained volunteers from our community. Stefan, Ethan, and Elizabeth are three of those community members stepping into self-gift for this growing aspect of our mission!
Each one found Eden Invitation after seeing our posts online and joined our community by participating in our programs. “The first event I did was the retreat in 2021, and it was absolutely amazing. It felt like I found my people,” Stefan shared. Being a father of two and with a background in the medical field, Stefan has a heart for others. He leapt at the chance to serve as a local Hearth Group Coordinator, “I wanted others who have similar experiences to know that they’re not alone. I love bringing people together and to help give them a place where they feel they belong.”
Ethan found Eden Invitation in 2020, “ I immediately fell in love with the community I found there. Not to mention, the timing couldn’t have been better for an online community with deep connections to each other.” Though a quieter guy, Ethan was eager to share his gifts for details and organization, “Finding Eden Invitation has been such a blessing in my life. I have grown so much in my walk with God thanks to the community and formation I’ve experienced here…I see so much value in having in-person, local gatherings, and I wanted to help enable that for as many people as possible.”
Elizabeth had been following Eden Invitation for years, “I read the first blog post within the first few months of it getting posted! Eventually, I reached a point in my faith where my experience of same-sex attraction (more so a lack of acknowledgment of it) was impacting my relationship with the Lord. I knew exactly which community to join, and I had my story call and first book club in the Spring of 2021.” Elizabeth was one of our new Hearth Group Coordinators trained in January. “Hearth Groups rolled out not long after I officially joined Eden Invitation. My regional group was entirely online, but I loved the idea of growing the community through in-person groups. I wanted to be a part of that long-term goal for my regional group.”
All three coordinators noted how regularly meeting as a community, whether it was in-person or online, has been a blessing for them and their Hearth Group members. “One of the biggest blessings that has come out of being a coordinator has been getting to know the other members on a deeper level. Sure, those relationships were started on a person-to-person basis, but as a coordinator, it is part of my role to be more intentional with all of the members. It is a huge honor and blessing to be able to do so.” Elizabeth shared.
Ethan helps coordinate a multi-site Hearth Group. “Our hearth group has become like a family. We drive across the state on a monthly basis just to see each other and be in each other’s company as we grow closer to Christ and His Church. We’ve even had the opportunity to be there for major events in each others’ lives - a child’s baptism and my father’s funeral - to support each other as a family. Each gathering leaves me filled with joy after praying and just being with our growing family.”
As with any family, growing a community takes work and there are difficulties that come up. Stefan asks for your prayers as those difficulties arise, “There are times it feels as though I’m not ‘worthy’ to be a coordinator, and the insecurities creep in. And I would want to be a proper leader as our Hearth Group goes through growing pains.”
There are also ways that stepping into self-gift calls you outside of yourself. “I’m normally an internal processor,” Ethan shared, “guiding conversations during our gatherings can be a bit of a challenge at times.”
In our more expansive regional groups, like Elizabeth’s, it can still feel disconnected because it’s still largely online. “We have some in-person Nooks of people who join the big group Zoom meeting together. It is an amazing step in the right direction but it is hard to grow as a whole community when all interactions are online.”
We are so blessed that these three, and the rest of our Hearth Group Coordinators have said “yes” to collaborating and growing this new initiative within our community. Please keep them and their intentions in your prayers as they step forward, extending the invitation to follow Christ and grow our community throughout the United States and beyond.