Building a Foundation | One-Year of an In-Person Staff
This August (2023) marked one year of working from our headquarters in St. Paul, MN! The day-to-day around here in this re-purposed classroom isn’t too flashy, and yet this is where some groundbreaking work has happened these past 12 months. Being the Communications & Relationship Specialist, I have had a front-row seat and I am excited to share more of the team’s reflections on the past year.
Eden Invitation has been largely a digital ministry, but that was never the end goal. As Shannon Ochoa shared with me, “...so much of our mission and values is about living our faith in an incarnate way. It almost felt like [staying as a remote team] wasn’t true to our identity as an organization.”
“Part of what stirred us to make this decision [to move to an in-person staff] was realizing how difficult the work of Eden Invitation is and how much more difficult it was to do the work in isolated cells…We felt convicted that, since we are trying to move our community to an incarnate, lived sense of belonging, that should be manifested in our staff too.”
When Andrew, our New Engagement Coordinator, reflected on the past year, he noted that the community’s online presence still being so broad has been a challenge: “We meet with and support people from across the country, and even around the world! This can cause the staff and volunteers to feel disconnected - and even disembodied - so it's essential that we stay grounded as a team. I think it's been easier for us to support our volunteers and to expand our in-person opportunities across the United States, partly because we ourselves were being supported by one another, in a more incarnate way.”
David, our Community Coordinator, added that our collaboration as a team has also improved each person’s work: “Currently, I’m working to develop a ‘Priest Companion’ program to accompany our Hearth Groups. My own prayer and writing to develop these materials wouldn’t have been the same without the conversations we’ve had here as a staff. Having the team here with me to explore deeper questions and continue to process what’s needed has been an invaluable addition to my work.”
The opportunities to collaborate in person have not only jump-started our individual work but also fanned the fire in our community: “You (Bernadette), Andrew, and David all came from being full-on participants in the community before being on staff. It’s been an inspiration for people to see that you can come from within this community and be a part of building this mission and ministry” Shannon added.
One recent example of growth in collaboration is our Platform Transition Team. To meet the need for more space and different layers of commitment and community, Anna and a team of volunteers have been preparing a new online platform for our community! This new platform will allow us to reach more people in those “in-between” places as well as build a safe space for those committed to growing in discipleship. This huge endeavor would have been impossible without our community members offering their time and gifts. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say our community joining us in the work and celebrations inspires us too!
Each Friday we take an hour to pray for each other, the Eden Invitation Community, our supporters, and the wider world, and after that time of intercession we celebrate in Joyful Hope. “Toasting each other–our lives and gifts– is something we do as part of retreats and other gatherings, but every week we come together as a staff to toast each other too.” David shared “It’s a part of our community culture to affirm and support each other. ”
Beyond the Friday toasts, we find other ways to bring joy and foster creativity in this space. Andrew shared “Our office is in an old classroom, so most of the walls are entirely slate chalkboards. Endless, simple entertainment! Each time you walk into the office, you can usually find something new written on the walls: a chalk drawing of the Sacred Heart, a funny quote, or a new idea from one of the team members.”
Every once in a while, you can catch the synth of the Belgian techno anthem “Pump Up the Jam” from Anna’s desk.
“The work of EI is not easy–it can be heavy and frustrating in different ways and you have to work through a lot of your own personal pain and history with these topics...” Then Shannon recalled a story from our first few weeks in the new headquarters: “...there was one time when we finished a meeting in our little conference/lunch room and as I was leaving, someone from another group in the building said to me ‘Wow, you guys have a lot of fun!’ – that person’s first impression of our staff was that we are happy to be here. That, in my mind, has been such a big marker of this team and the fruits of being an incarnate staff and community.”
Looking to the future, Shannon said, “We are excited for the creativity we’ve seen in our community and dedicated volunteers. Being able to collaborate more effectively has opened so many doors and I’m excited to see how David, Andrew, and Bernadette continue to grow in leadership and empower more people with LGBTQ+ experiences for creative discipleship.”
These first few years of Eden Invitation have been “groundbreaking” in several ways. In a world so caught up in culture wars, the idea that two faithful lay-women could co-found a Catholic ministry for people with LGBTQ+ experiences, one made by and for those who share that experience, then have that ministry grow to be an influential voice in the Church and the world in less than a decade– well that seems pretty far-fetched. And yet, by the grace of God, here we are! Anna Carter, Shannon Ochoa, and all of those who have worked for Eden Invitation have put years of prayer and perseverance into the rapidly growing online and in-person community we have today. We’ve been able to break open what it means to be a person in the Church with an LGBTQ+ experience, and dig into what it means to be human– uniquely and wonderfully made by God. This digging deeper into the Heart of God has been good in and of itself, but like a literal groundbreaking, all of this has been to lay a foundation for even greater growth and witness to the Church and world.