Hearth Group Kick-Off | An Interview with Mikayla
June can be a challenging month for members of our community. For some, the varying responses to “Pride,” whether from friends, family, or their parish community can serve to make Catholics experiencing same sex attraction or gender discordance feel even more disconnected and isolated from those around them.
“Pride Month was always a kind of stressful time for me, more because of the Christian response to Pride rather than Pride itself,” says Eden Invitation member, Mikayla. “In a sense, there’s a hard wall between me and the rest of the (secular) LGBT community. I understand where they’re coming from and I’m okay with that divider. But depending on how Christian people respond—that’s my community—and how they respond has a very strong impact on how I feel, as the ‘invisible branch’ of the LGBT community.”
How fitting that this month, our local and regional “Hearth Groups” launched in thirteen different locations. For members of our community desiring more regular and intentional fellowship, these groups have become a significant blessing and source of support for those involved.
Mikayla is one of the coordinators of our West Coast Hearth Group. A longtime community member, she was part of our inaugural book club nearly four years ago. Until recently, Mikayla, who moved from Texas to California to finish her PhD in Material Science, had very little local support from other members of Eden Invitation on the West Coast.
“Back then, there wasn’t anybody on the West Coast; everybody was just so geographically far from me,” Mikayla says of when she first joined Eden Invitation. “I remember thinking how fortunate I was that it was an online community, otherwise I would have nothing.”
Although Mikayla was grateful for the opportunity to be connected to the community virtually, her experience shifted drastically after attending an in-person event, our first retreat, in 2019.
“Once we met in person, it was like night and day; it was amazing,” Mikayla says. “The idea of having something more permanent with people close to us, that was community-led, seems like a natural thing to aim for.”
And this month, that came to fruition. The West Coast Hearth Group is unique from the other Hearth Groups which are comprised of smaller regional areas where they regularly meet in person (e.g. Twin Cities, South Bend, Southern Wisconsin, Central Florida, and Southern Michigan). Even so, for many of our West Coast members spanning Washington State, down to Arizona and into Nevada, who currently meet via Zoom, this is the first time they’ve had Eden Invitation community within driving distance or a short flight away. They look forward to gathering in person in the future.
“With a Hearth Group, we’re talking about people who live geographically close enough to form an intentional community that has more permanence than the typical book club,” says Mikayla. “It’s amazing because now, I’m like, ‘Wow, there are people I could feasibly meet!’” The monthly Hearth Group gatherings include elements of formation, fellowship, and prayer. And if a critical mass of community members emerges in a particular city, a process will begin to discern establishing them as their own local, in-person Hearth Group.
“That’s a key part of Hearth, a place you can grow,” says Mikayla. “Talking about integrating this experience within the whole person is important. It’s a good reminder that we’re way more than our orientation or experiences of [gender discordance]. We’re just enjoying life together.”
And while Hearth Groups are certainly an important source of fellowship for many in our community, it’s also important for those experiencing SSA or gender discordance to know they have other people in their daily life who want to journey alongside them. Mikayla hopes that mission partners and allies continue to be part of the movement of Eden Invitation.
“For those of us for whom marriage is not a possibility, we’re worried about what things will look like down the road,” says Mikayla. “(Loved ones) can combat the isolation we feel with radical inclusion… having an open-door policy or regular meet-ups with my ‘found family’ is something that has helped me a lot.”
“Talk to other people within your church community who haven’t heard of Eden Invitation,” she adds. “Let your priest know about it and if you know anybody who has these experiences, point them our direction.”
Having been part of Eden Invitation from the very beginning, Mikayla expresses particular gratitude for those who have supported the mission over the years and allowed the movement to grow as it has.
“I’m really grateful to our donors, for the support you are giving to us,” says Mikayla. “I’m excited to see how Eden Invitation continues to grow. It’s felt exponential.”