Wednesday Workshops: Accompaniment & Coming Out Strong

Ironic close-up of a beautiful mural in the MCUSA exhibit hall, where PinkMenno was denied booth space.

I will skip to the main point: Allies Matter. Allies Matter A Lot. This was one of the main conclusions of both workshops hosted by PinkMenno and Brethren Mennonite Council yesterday (by the awesome Kirsten Freed). The first, Accompaniment: A Journey for Youth Sponsors, focused on those of us who work with youth and consisted primarily of a conversation around how we can walk alongside youth who are LGBT and encourage allies in our Churches and Youth Groups.

A question that was particularly important was asked by a pastor to the LGBT participants: What could I, or other pastors, do to make your process easier? What did (do) you need from your pastor on this journey? The answers and conversation ranged from the oft-called for hope for more conversation around all of healthy human sexuality (especially at this conference, thanks to some powerful workshops led by Keith Graber Miller), inclusive language, clear messages to youth and youth groups that pastors and others are safe people, and bringing up conversation when possible about LGBT rights and advocacy.

A resource on the BMC webpage is available to continue discussing these concepts. I, personally, appreciated our discussion of myths about homosexuality and the Truth we can share with those who are challenging our work with youth. The importance, too, of encouraging allies can’t be understated. As more and more allies come out in  youth groups, the safer the space becomes for LGBT or Questioning youth and the more positive and whole youth group experiences become.

Christine Baer shares at "Coming Out Strong" workshop

The second workshop of the day, Coming Out Strong, reiterated the theme of allies being primary in created safe spaces. What particularly encouraged me was the overwhelming presence of youth and youth groups themselves attending this workshop. I was privileged to sit with a group of about 20 youth exploring imaginatively and sharing experiences of what it means to come out in a church as LGBT and what it would/could mean to come out as an ally. I loved their ideas, compassion and excitement about creating a church that was LGBT friendly, filled with allies and consistently educating its members on issues of human sexuality and gender.

Afterwords a high school student named Maddy said “I have learned SO MUCH today. We have to start having these conversations in our churches! We have to keep learning!”

I say: “Amen!”