by John Gustav-Wrathall, Senior Vice President, Affirmation
What is it like to be L, G, B, T or Q and Mormon? Have we experienced heartache? A yearning for relationship that seemed impossible, unattainable? And the loneliness that came with that yearning? That sense of terrible loneliness that came from a dawning realization of something core about us, something that we desperately wanted to make go away any way we could, through fasting, through prayer, through service, and just knowing that there was no one we could tell?
Have we experienced exile? Have we found strength in that acknowledgment that this is who I am and there’s no denying it, only to be abandoned by family and friends and the Church?
Have we experienced conflict? Not just conflict with others who didn’t understand, but conflict within ourselves? Uncertainty about where to go next, what to do, how to choose when an impossible choice is seemingly placed before us? That impossible choice between our sense of belonging in the Church and our identity in these wonderful, miraculous bodies God gave us?
There is power in embracing the fullness of who we are, body, mind and spirit. And we get energy from each other, from sharing visions, ideas and energy.
The Affirmation International Leadership Gathering in Washington, DC in January 2013 was powerful because we affirmed that we could fully embrace our faith and our testimonies as Latter-day Saints, and fully embrace who we are as lesbian, gay, bi or transgender. We may not have worked out the particulars, but we knew that it must be possible because we are, and we have faith. It was also powerful, because we forged new friendships and found a community of committed people where we could wrestle with doubt and uncertainty and grieve loss, even as we reaffirmed our faith and began to map out a vision for our future.
The Affirmation Annual Conference in Kirtland, OH in 2011 was powerful for all those same reasons, but it was also powerful because of the hallowed space we had chosen to gather in. Some of us wept as we recalled the revelations, the visions, the glories and the miracles the Saints experienced in that place, particularly in the Kirtland Temple.
The Affirmation International Leadership Retreat, to take place in Nauvoo, IL, May 2-4, 2014, will once again offer us an opportunity to drink deeply from the wellsprings of our faith as Latter-day Saints, and to re-energize one another.
When the Saints settled in Nauvoo, they came as exiles from Missouri, driven out at gunpoint under the threat of a statewide extermination order. Their yearning to build Zion in the “center place” in Missouri had been frustrated. Nauvoo was also a place of dissent and conflict. In the end, the Saints left Nauvoo, their prophet having been martyred and their community shattered and driven away once again. Nauvoo was a difficult place.
And yet… It was in Nauvoo that the Saints laid a pattern for Zion. It was in Nauvoo that the Saints learned what they were made of. They built a temple where they forged eternal families for the first time. The loss of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum forced the Saints to find strength and leadership potential within themselves. They found the faith, hope and love to begin a new trek, trusting that God had something much greater for them in store, even though they couldn’t necessarily see it at the time. We are the inheritors of the faith that was forged in Nauvoo.
Let’s gather there, as the Saints did 170 years ago. We’ve experienced the yearning for wholeness, the exile, the conflict. And we are beginning on a trek toward something we can’t fully see (except in vision), but which we know must be very, very good, because we know of God’s love and yearning for us.
If you are gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, or straight, if you yearn for community and you have desire to serve, come join us and find out what it means to become a part of the Affirmation leadership team, even if you’ve never gathered with us before.
We’ve planned opportunities to get to know one another, to share stories, to prepare and eat meals together, to learn more deeply about the history of the Saints and our place within that marvelous mosaic, to walk the streets that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the early Saints walked, to reflect on what it means to be a leader within this community, to pray, to meditate, to sing, and to bear witness of where we’ve come from and where God is leading us.
Begin to make your travel plans now. Those of us who live in the Midwest will be driving and organizing vans and caravans. Those who live further away will mostly be flying in to St. Louis or Chicago and driving from there. James Brinton is helping to coordinate rides, if you need help.
We’ll be staying at the Nauvoo House, the place where many Saints stayed when the first arrived in Nauvoo. It’s important you register as soon as possible so we will be able to plan to accommodate everyone.
Come join us for the next stage of the trek!