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GLBT Christians meet in Tacoma for ConnECtion
GLBT Christians meet in Tacoma for ConnECtion
by Tim Peter - SGN Staff Writer

Whoever said Gays can't be Christian apparently got it wrong. From July 10 to July 13, approximately 125 GLBT Christians and their allies gathered at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma for the 28th ConnECtion. ConnECtion is the name given to the annual conferences sponsored by Evangelicals Concerned (EC) and its sister organization, Evangelicals Concerned, Western Region (ECWR).

"ConnECtion is a time to gather and worship God with fellow Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Christians in a safe and freeing environment. Workshops and small groups provide many opportunities to connect with others and share our stories," says the organization's website, www.ecwr.org. "Evangelicals Concerned (EC) is a safe place for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians to reconcile and integrate their faith and sexuality. As a non-denominational community, EC encourages spiritual growth for anyone on their journey of faith through conferences, local groups, Bible studies, and educational resources."

This year's theme was "One in the Spirit." The event opened on Thursday evening with a keynote address by Dr. Randall Balmer, advisory editor for Christianity Today magazine, Professor of American Religion at Columbia University and author of 10 books, including Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America. He titled his speech "Keeping the Faith: Reclaiming Christianity from the Religious Right." (Keynote addresses from 2003 to 2008 can be heard on ECWR's website.)

Following the general sessions, attendees were divided into various "Family Groups" where they could get to know each other personally and talk about the keynote addresses and what it's like to be Christian and Gay.

Friday morning's session began with a brief worship service, followed by a choice of workshops led by Balmer, the Rev. Bill Prickett and Dr. Jonathan Quek, and also another Family Group Session. Following lunch, Dr. Ralph Blair, founder of EC in 1980 and currently a clinical psychologist in New York City, gave the second keynote address, titled "One in What Spirit?" Following Blair's speech, the group had a choice of three more workshops to attend.

Friday evening found the group in the Lagerquist Concert Hall for the annual awards ceremony and a concert by award-winning Southern Gospel singer/songwriter Kirk Talley. Due to an as-yet undiagnosed voice problem, in which he can no longer hit the high and low notes for which he is famous, he spent much of the time talking about his life. Concertgoers were not disappointed, however. Talley did perform several numbers, including "He is Here," "Serenaded by Angels," "Step Into the Water," and "Judge Not." He also discussed how he was "outed" by a stalker who had found Talley's personal writings online and threatened to sell his story to the press if Talley did not pay him. This resulted in an investigation by the FBI; they eventually arrested the man and charged him with embezzlement, but not before he sold his story to the press against Talley's wishes and against orders by the FBI not to do so. This caused record labels to cancel contracts and churches to refuse or cancel his performances. He spoke of how his best friend took him in and helped him through his darkest hours of depression. As a result, Talley said he knows "God is my source, and I am seeing that many hurting people can be encouraged to a closer walk with Christ through my testimony of grace and forgiveness."

On Saturday morning, the Rev. Evelyn Schave stirred the crowd with her keynote address, "Children of Thunder." Schave is an evangelist with the Church of God. She spoke of how she began preaching at the age of 8 and has been doing so ever since. A few years ago, she was invited to speak at an annual conference for The Evangelical Network (TEN), an organization similar to EC which embraces GLBT Christians. At first, she wasn't certain if she should attend that conference or not. But after much prayer and consulting with friends (including fellow preachers in the Church of God), she felt she needed to go. She has preached at several other TEN conferences since then, which she said has radically changed her ministry. She said she is fully supportive of GLBT people and has no doubt that they can also be Christians. But this has caused a backlash by other conservative pastors in her denomination. Some of the pastors and church members she once considered her closest friends have turned their backs on her, telling her never to speak to them or come to their churches again until she changes her mind about Gays and Christians. She said that since she won't change her mind on this subject, she just won't have those friends any longer. But she has found a warm embrace among the GLBT Christian crowd as a result, and continues preaching to those groups across the country.

Saturday night provided an opportunity for everyone to let their hair down. For the second year in a row, the group hosted a disco dance party, complete with 1970s costumes. This proved to be a huge success with conference attendees. Sunday morning brought the conference to a close with the traditional worship service that included Holy Communion and a time for people to publicly share their experiences from the weekend.

Two things that make ConnECtion unique are "Angel Grams" and the Sacred Space. Angel Grams are little notes that conferees pass to one another to say hello or to encourage them or whatever they want to write. Donations are accepted (previously required, but this year was different) to help fund scholarships for people who cannot otherwise afford to attend. In addition, one person is designated as the "Angel" and walks around delivering the Angel Grams.

The Sacred Space is a room or an area on the conference grounds set aside for the purpose of quiet meditation and prayer. The room is decorated with flowers, Bible verses are posted on the walls, and soft music plays in the background to help facilitate the mood. ConnECtion 2009 is already planned in advance. It will be held in Palm Springs, Ca. More information can be found on ECWR's website. Additionally, EC holds an annual summer conference in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Information about that can be found at www.ecinc.org.

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