A Day at the Booth | Eden Invitation at SEEK24
SEEK24 was a whirlwind– over 20,000 people came to America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis, Missouri to worship God and grow in knowledge of their faith, seeking to “Be the Light” as disciples of Christ. Hundreds of Catholic organizations, artists, religious orders, and more had booths in “Mission Way.” Eden Invitation’s booth had to be one of the busiest.
Located right between the FOCUS store and the entrance to the main hall where Mass and keynotes were held, our little neon sign called out to anyone looking for answers about faith and sexuality, particularly to those questions about LGBTQ+ experiences. But what is it like to stand under the sign, trying to receive each person’s unique story and life as a Child of God? How do you balance that and also answer their questions which often stem from anywhere–from protective suspicion to reverent curiosity to lived experiences?
I want to paint that picture in such vivid detail because, personally, it was an amazing experience of God’s grace and glory. It was also a rollercoaster.
With this being my first conference representing Eden Invitation, I (Bernadette) will do my best to give a sketch of what it’s like using my own schedule from SEEK24. I’ve added notes to reflect the difference between what we planned and what actually happened (in the end, God plans it all!)
Conferences may just look like events on the calendar, times and to-dos in a list. Each time and entry I included here was a moment I encountered Christ– in His care for me through prayer, through others, and even in myself as His instrument at this conference. I hope this creative sketch can give you a window into what it’s like to be with us at the Eden Invitation booth!
Bernadette's Schedule at SEEK24
Wake up and get ready. Eat breakfast while listening to my pump-up playlist through my headphones.
When ready, walk to the convention center.
Personal Prayer time (Mass, Adoration, Morning Prayer were all options in this window).
Team Check-in: Meet in the Hospitality Room in the convention center. Do general pulse checks, and review any questions that came up at the booth that weren’t in our initial training.
Cover our day in prayer with intersessions.
10:30- 11:45 am Attend Breakout Sessions-CUT from our original schedule.
One more prayer break in the Adoration Chapel to prepare for my time at the booth.
Make sure all materials are restocked at the booth. People picked some up while we were out. Most popular items have been our Community contact cards, our Eden Invitation Trail Map, and stickers. Later in the week, our values-based examination of conscience ("You are Good") was also a popular item, especially when over 2,000 of the conference attendees filed past our booth for the confession lines Thursday night.
People immediately come up to the booth and begin asking questions. Some example scenarios, all real:
-- First Year Priest, his sister is married to a woman. He wants to continue walking with her while also holding to his faith, particularly considering his vocation. (When we were done chatting, he gave us a special blessing!) In addition to “A Guide to Receive Someone’s Story,” I gave him a stack of community contact cards to give to those who come to him.
--Current Community Member with Eden Invitation, here to pick up printed materials to share at home and introduce friends who also have LGBTQ+ experiences.
Attempt to eat the conference boxed-lunch in between conversations. Enjoy the answers on our "Question of the Day" whiteboard.
Continue conversations and share materials at the Booth. More example scenarios, all real:
-- Non-Christian woman with an LGBTQ+ experience, came to the conference with friends because she’s investigating more about the Christian faith. Overwhelmed by the new terms being thrown around, we kept the conversation to the basics as much as possible. She took some community contact materials and will think more about it.
-- Experienced College Campus Minister had a student who, because they were open about their LGBTQ+ experiences, wasn’t allowed to be a student leader in their Campus Ministry. The Campus Minister felt he didn’t do enough to both accompany that student and educate the others that it was possible to be a striving disciple and be open about an LGBTQ+ experience. He wants to grow and have more resources so that every student knows they can be a disciple of Christ.
2:00- 4:00 pm - Attend Impact Session Talks- CUT from our original schedule.
Finish off the last bites of lunch. Continue conversations. The stream of people talking directly to me is pretty steady still, even with 4 of us from staff manning the booth.
Anna and Shannon leave the booth to connect with other ministry leaders at the conference.
Andrew and I are starting to combine people who come up at the same time into little “classes.” In full-on teacher mode, I hand out our Community “Trail Map” and give them a little Eden Invitation 101. I take questions from the group of 4 to 7 people afterward. Some stick around to connect with Andrew once he’s done with his group, as he’s our New Engagement Coordinator. Some will loop back later without the others to grab a community contact card ("You are not alone") to sign up for a Story Call.
Have a sports drink to rehydrate, and pray in thanksgiving to God for the lovely local supporter who did a store run for us.
Things slow down a bit as the second round of Impact sessions begins. We keep one person at the booth and rotate on taking an extended break. On my break, I take a walk around to the other booths and catch up with friends working them. Connect again with the Daughters of St. Paul about the podcast we recorded earlier in the week, and talk shop about social media.
Back at the booth. Traffic has picked up, especially since breakout speakers on sexuality topics have been recommending our community and resources. Some even personally bring people from their booth or meet-and-greet over to us. We are so grateful for their collaboration and support!
A lull in traffic at the booth. People have started streaming into the main hall for the evening Keynote.
Another example scenario, real:
-- A young religious sister comes to the booth during an oddly quiet period (my bets are on God’s timing). She looks around before coming close to Anna and me. Fingers knotted up in her drawstring bag, she asks a piercing question–a deeply personal question about experiences. Because she has them too. Anna takes her aside and receives her story while I stand at the front of the booth and connect with those walking by. I thank God for the din of thousands covering that vulnerable moment and pray for her. I remember being in her place when I first came to this booth in 2020.
Run and grab dinner while everyone else at the conference is occupied by the keynote. Make sure materials and QR codes for our website are easily visible for any others not at the talk.
Back at the booth. Slower traffic, but more people sharing their stories. Potential community members ask about how they can connect when they’re back home in Mexico, Ecuador, or Ireland, for example.
Close the booth. Leave out materials for anyone else who may come by while we’re gone.
Being at SEEK for 4 full days with this schedule is exhausting, but also the most thrilling thing I’ve ever done. In these days, I had the gift to not just pray that I could be, but know that I was the Hands and Feet of Christ to those people. In the 200+ unique interactions I had, each person heard that God loves them.
Do that times 4– Anna, Shannon, Andrew, and Myself.
Then add all of our community members and supporters who came by, took our materials, and spread that message even further.
My time at SEEK showed me how the Gospel works. Christ is made present in one unique life, and through that person’s fidelity and love for Him, He is born in many many more lives.
I cannot wait until we’re at the National Eucharistic Congress in July!