Mutual Belonging | Highlights from the Annual Retreat
Belonging. It’s something we need, something we seek, and something that, once found, is of inestimable value. There is something so human about the desire to fit, to feel welcome, to find a space that feels like “home.” And sadly, for many of our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex desires or gender discordance, the search for belonging is often particularly elusive.
But each year, something truly special happens in our Eden Invitation community. From all around the country, members travel to gather for a “family reunion” in the form of our annual retreat. For many in our community, this is a weekend unlike any other and a place where they experience belonging in a unique way.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I showed up,” says community member, Nykole, who attended retreat for the first time last month. “But I got off the bus, and it just felt really familiar and like a safe place.
It felt like, ‘These people know me as I am, and I’m welcome here.’ There’s not a lot of places in the Church that feel that way, living this experience.”
How appropriate that our theme for this year’s retreat was “Mutual Belonging,” focused on our belonging to God and the power of our belonging to one another in community and the Church.
In many cases, Catholics with an experience of same-sex desires often feel caught between two worlds: with their Catholic friends who don’t relate to their experience of sexuality, or with their secular LGBT+ friends who don’t understand their choice to live their faith. On retreat, they get to experience a community centered on the union of both.
“In the secular world, there’s hiding or toning down the intensity of the Christianity, and in the Catholic world, toning down (this experience),” says Ethan, another community member, who attended retreat this year.
“No one had to hide this part of themselves at retreat, and it was just so beautiful; it felt so free,” says Nykole. “That was my favorite part of the whole weekend, seeing people fully being themselves. It was so beautiful.”
For the majority of our community members who are involved in our online community and book clubs, as well as those who attend our regional gatherings or are part of an emerging local Hearth Group, retreat meets a particular need. While we’ve all benefitted from the ways technology can keep us connected to those we love, the limitations of connection through a screen remain.
“There’s something very human about the desire to be physically in the same place with people you care about,” says Ethan. “No matter how good the technology is, you can’t replicate the aspect of actually being present. We’re incarnational beings and our needs reflect that.”
In many cases, the sense of belonging and community also fuels an openness and vulnerability in prayer and an opportunity to deepen one’s relationship with God, the One to whom we ultimately belong.
“I have my guard up all the time, at least a little bit, even with my closest friends,” says Ethan. “But on retreat, we all know some of the most vulnerable aspects of each other so the guards aren’t up at all. It’s a real break from this level of anxiety that’s always there in the background; you don’t even realize it’s there until it’s gone.”
“It ends up fueling my prayer, as well,” he says. “I realize my guards are up, even in prayer, because it’s just a perpetual thing in the back of my head, and having that chance to totally relax, it helps you grow close to others very fast, and closer to God, as well… I have a renewed desire to spend time in prayer.”
Retreat includes many of the things you would typically expect—keynote talks and workshops, opportunities for communal and personal prayer and worship, and the sacraments—but there are also many unique moments, like our TalenTED evening where people share their talents or give three-minute “TED Talks” on topics they’re passionate about. This year, retreat also included a spontaneous dance party, singing hymns from canoes in the middle of the lake, and a closing celebration honoring the ways in which community members reflect God to one another.
When the weekend comes to a close, our community members return to “normal life.” For some, that means primarily virtual support. For others, it means meeting up monthly with other community members in their region. But regardless of what their local support looks like, they return home with a renewed commitment to community, confident that there is a space—this side of heaven—where they really do belong.
“Walking away from this retreat, you have other people who you can share what you may feel is the worst or hardest part of you, you can share it automatically,” says Nykole. “You don’t have to walk on eggshells and you don’t have to self-edit when you’re talking. For me, coming home, I’m like, ‘I’m not alone and I do have these people in my life who I can reach out to, and they’ll be there.’”
“The sense of community, belonging, and hope is the key thing that sets Eden Invitation apart,” adds Ethan. “And their view of how you can have a fulfilling life with God, and the Church, and other people, because of how you’re living the Church’s teachings, not just in spite of it. At retreat, we get a taste of that sense of that community, a full, living experience of it.”