“Many Paths, One Heart” was intended to honor the uniqueness of the lives and the choices of every member of the Affirmation family, in or out of the Church. Wherever our individual paths lead us, Affirmation is committed to the Zion-like quality of being ‘of one heart.’
This Northwest Regional conference was held in Portland, Oregon, a city with a reputation for being LGBT friendly, and where Affirmation has a long history, and a vital, active chapter led by Robert Rookhuyzen. Ron and Sue Raynes of Eugene, Oregon were the conference co-chairs. “We especially wanted to reach out to former members of Affirmation, to see how we can be more inclusive,” said Ron, who is also a member of the International Board of Affirmation.
It followed the model developed at the annual international conference of having a track specifically designed for active LDS and a track for post- or transitioning Mormons, as well as a “church neutral” track engaging with subjects of interest to people all along the faith spectrum. There were workshops on LGBTQ Mormon history, “affirming parenting,” “Claiming our Faith” and “Cafeteria Mormonism,” how to tell our stories more effectively, personal revelation and the LGBT Mormon faith journey, negotiating family relationships through faith transitions, and “new spiritual paths.”
The Friday night key note speaker was Eric Snider, a Mormon columnist, comedian and songwriter who described his journey of coming to terms with being gay, and finding a path of faith and integrity as a member of the Church. A Saturday evening panel of active, inactive and former LGBT Mormons spoke about their spiritual journeys, and ways that Affirmation could better strengthen members of the LGBT Mormon community. John Gustav-Wrathall, president of Affirmation, talked about the impact of the November 2015 policy on the LGBT Mormon community, and then talked about the importance of accepting and believing in ourselves, of developing a personal relationship with God, and of “carrying one another.”
On Sunday morning, conference attendees had two options for worship. Some gathered at the Portland Community of Christ for a Testimony/Spiritual Story Sharing Meeting, following by a worship service that was jointly put on by Affirmation and the Community of Christ. Talks on the theme of spiritual equality were given by Buckley Jeppson, Dorothy Wilgus (of the Community of Christ Quorum of the Seventy), Neca Allgood (of the Affirmation Board) and Pastor Val Walker.
Others attended an alternative spirituality workshop led by Nick Literski. Nick discussed images of deity in a variety of cultures, and how they help people connect with divinity in different ways. Then participants discussed their spiritual practices: what has worked for them and what hasn’t, and what they want in their spiritual lives (as opposed to what they think they are supposed to have).
The conference was filled with music, including Eric Snider’s comedic Tom-Lehrer-esque ditties; soul-stirring renditions of LDS hymns and primary songs in the Gospel music idiom played by long-time Affirmation member David Wood; a haunting jazz rendition of a 1960’s Primary Song based on Emily Dickinson’s poem “I Never Saw a Moor” by the Colonial Heights Players (including former Affirmation vice president Tina Richerson!); and Mary Lydia Ryan singing her deeply moving arrangement of “Your Song.”
There were 70 registered attendees, though participation was hampered by the worst snow storm to hit Portland in over a decade. Conference organizers had to come up at the last minute with alternative lunch plans for Saturday, since the original caterers were unable to open due to inclement weather. Attendees all arrived without mishap, though it was slow going on the icy roads and sidewalks.
Indoors there was the warmth of connection, of love and of the Spirit, and a renewed commitment to mourn together, rejoice together and bear one another’s burdens — regardless of our path in life.