I guess I wasn’t expecting to have a holy moment at a writers conference, even though it was called, The Festival of Faith and Writing. I mean, I’ve been there twice before. I have been moved while attending: moved to think bigger thoughts, moved to be a better writer, moved to change the world, but I wouldn’t necessarily call those holy moments; although in retrospect, they probably were. But this was different.
To explain it, I need to give you a little background, in case you just started following this blog recently. You see, for about thirty years, I was part of the branch of Christian faith that had a “conservative” view of the LGBTQ community. By that I mean, it was what we’d call, welcoming, but not affirming.
About ten years ago, my thoughts on this began to change, until my theology became both welcoming AND affirming. Because of this change, I needed to move away from the more conservative organization I worked for, which is to say, I was asked to leave. This was a painful, but necessary, move. I loved and missed the people I had been working with for over thirty years.
The Festival of Faith and Writing is a wonderful conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is held at a Christian college in the heart of the mid-west. But, it tends to have speakers from the whole spectrum of Christianity – and from other faiths too. If you’re familiar with names like Anne Lamott, Rachel Held-Evans and Shane Claiborne, you’ll know what I mean. This year, Nadia Boltz-Weber was a keynote speaker. Nadia, a Lutheran pastor, is famous for her foul mouth and sleeve tattoos. She pastors a very welcoming and affirming church in Denver, Colorado called, The House for all Sinners and Saints.
Now, here’s where the holiness comes in:I had driven to the conference with some old friends from my previous organization. All the pain from those days of being asked to leave was gone, and I really enjoyed their company at the conference. We were all sitting in the room together, at the end of the conference, when Nadia spoke.
She was warm and charming and a hugely packed auditorium of mostly white Midwesterners embraced her fully. She had us all laughing as she said things like, “Every congregation should have a drag queen, but there may not be enough to go around.” She had us thoughtful when she talked about the integrity of the liturgy and her love for it, because “It doesn’t need me.”
Then she had us all stand up and sing the hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. And that was the holy moment for me. I was standing with friends from an organization that asked me to leave because of being an LGBTQ ally. We were standing in a room full of Christians who probably felt the same way as those friends. But, we were being led into worship by a woman who was herself an ally and who was encouraging others to be allies. The tears began to roll down my face as we sang these words:
Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
This, for me, was a little bit of heaven, because for the first time in many years, there was no division, no arguing, or name calling around something that has literary divided churches and broken denominations. For the first time we could all stand together and sing in praise. The auditorium was full, the acoustics were good and these folks knew how to harmonize! It was beautiful. It was an incredibly holy moment for me, it was healing, and it gave me hope for the future. That one day, this issue did not divide us, we will be able to stand side by side and sing praise.
I’m so grateful that it came at a writers conference, the place of my most joy.
Where have you experienced a surprising holy moment in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Share it in the comments below.
Photo Credit, Heart on Fire by Jonathan Cray, click to listen.