Two weekends ago, Joel and I both had the opportunity to be a part of Fabulous, Fierce, and Sacred: A Gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* Community in Chicago, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on that experience. For those that don’t know, the conference was planned by various groups within the Mennonite Church who are all working in their own ways to make the denomination a safer, more welcoming and inclusive place for people of gender of sexual minorities. The event page describes the gathering as an opportunity “for retreat and renewal, planning and politics, and/or simply being held in the encompassing space of welcoming and inclusive community.”
The weekend was all of these things and more.
Whenever I try to talk about why the conference was so meaningful or what exactly went on that made it such a powerful experience, I often come up with a loss for words. How exactly does one describe the spirit of such an event? One phrase that has stuck with me, however, and that I have used to sum up the experience came when some of the conference participants were sitting around talking and someone said, “This is what it’s like for the Church to be joyfully unafraid.”
I can’t get this phrase out of my head because it beautifully captures a big part of why the experience was so meaningful. It brings me back to 1 John 4:18 where scripture says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” It would be silly to think that the conference somehow achieved “perfect love.” In fact, the leaders of the conference made a point of admitting that there is no way to create a completely “safe space” for all people, but what they committed to instead was building “safer spaces” of shared accountability and responsibility. They invited us to enter into the space together, bringing our own vulnerabilities and being accountable to one another in loving honesty.
This is what it’s like for the Church to be joyfully unafraid.
This idea of being joyfully unafraid helps me make sense of the way participants at the conference could seamlessly go from heartbreaking and anger inducing discussions about oppression to vibrant experiences of worship. It helps me make sense of the power of the anointing ritual where the fabulousness, fierceness, and sacredness of each person was boldly declared one-by-one. It gives me language for describing the way our voices were able to fill the room as we sang over and over again, “Rain down, rain down, rain down your love on your people.”
I harbor no illusions about the fact that conferences like this create comfortable bubbles where the realities of bringing together like-minded people for a singular purpose are quickly burst upon re-entry into the “real world” where we are accountable to a bigger diversity of viewpoints. There is a lot about that weekend that I will probably have a hard time translating into language that makes sense outside of that space, but more than anything I was captured by the idea and experience of the Church being joyfully unafraid.
May we all be captured by that same vision as we seek, in our own ways, to continue to drive out fear through the perfection of our love.