LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends gathered in historic Nauvoo, Illinois this past weekend for a remarkable spiritual and leadership retreat. Below are reflections from some of those who participated. The gathering included learning about Nauvoo history and its parallel to our lives as LGBT Mormons, sharing of personal stories and testimonies, discussions about leadership, and time fellowshipping together.
My favorite part was the gathering at the end of Parley Street, where the Saints left to cross the Mississippi River. It really helped me feel connected. It made me think about why I am doing what I am doing and also just allowed a space to be authentic and to be hopeful as I look forward my future.
My favorite part was when we first drove in on Friday night, and everyone was in the middle of getting to know each other. Seeing everyone again, feeling the amazing loving spirit, that is always my favorite part of Affirmation. Because I don’t attend my ward very often, coming and feeling that Spirit and community is so nice.
My favorite part was the very last gathering – the devotional. There was an untethered spirit of authenticity and longing and want and finding and belonging. It was a conglomeration of beautiful and sorrowful things and I really loved the sacredness of being allowed to share in the sacred narratives of my fellow travelers. I was especially moved by the very heartfelt singing of God be With You Till We Meet Again. The impression I had as we cried together was that for many this was their gathering with the Saints, this was their Zion and their moment to be with others that understand and know what its like to be LGBT and come from the LDS faith tradition.
In the film work I have been doing to help communicate the experience of being part of the LGBT and the LDS community – at least half of that task is conveying to others what it is that is so compelling about religious and spiritual experiences that people like us would even want be involved in integrating the two parts. While here in Nauvoo, I have again seen why I need to tell the stories of what is so compelling and beautiful about having a religious/spiritual life. In these moments of feeling community and the Spirit, and being vulnerable through grappling and testifying – grace is made manifest and we see why the people attending this weekend bother to find an integrated path.
While I was here in Nauvoo I really felt a connection to why the Saints originally built Nauvoo, and being here in this place, their place where they felt free from oppression and fear at least for a little while, was a place that gave them the courage to follow their hearts and build their relationship with God. They ended up leaving Nauvoo for the same reason, to believe and be free to follow their beliefs and follow their hearts. Being in this place of truly living authentic to what the Saints believed has and continues to give me courage to live authentically being true to who I am as a Latter-day Saint and as a lesbian. I have felt peace, love and healing here in ways I did not expect. This gives me comfort on my journey West into a place that is unknown and in many ways a new place, with a restoration of courage and hope for my future.
My favorite part was the devotional in the Seventies Hall on Sunday because I loved hearing everyone’s stories. They all have their differences but the have their similar themes and I could relate to it really well. I don’t like sharing my story but I like relating to other peoples’ stories.
My favorite part of meeting was the testimony meeting in the Seventies Hall and that Elder Gibbons, Nauvoo LDS Mission President, was there with us. I felt a welcoming hand from the Church and his stewardship here. That is was Christianity is all about.
One of the things I have been struggling with lately is the thought of the future, and what it holds. Lately I have been afraid that I won’t have people who will relate to me yet being here with LGBT Saints from all over the country, I get a feeling of being part of a family where I am able to be myself, to laugh, talk and express my feelings and thoughts and love for others. That was my favorite part. I am part of something greater and I can find a family no matter where I go. The free time together building and strengthening friendships will bless our lives in the future.
A moment that stood out to me was the Carthage tour. Similar to seeing the LDS Mission President reach out to us during the devotional, the Carthage sister missionaries, who we weren’t expecting to reach out to us in the way they did, were very welcoming and just beautiful! I wasn’t expecting them to connect with us the way they did and they certainly weren’t expecting a group like us to come through. They did a great job of following the Spirit giving that tour and everything they taught was so caring and compassionate and taught in a way for us to feel the Spirit and to feel nothing but love.
Another part that really hit home was on Saturday morning looking over the Mississippi at the Saints’ departure point. Randall had us think about crossing our individual frontiers and going into the unknown and then asked us to share what will sustain us through the journey. This was a really powerful moment for me.
I think my favorite part of the weekend was the relationship that I developed with Emma Smith being able to feel the trauma of her life and the trauma of Nauvoo but being able to pull out the good things of Nauvoo even amidst that pain. This is an important lesson I can apply in my own life.
Read a more detailed report of the Nauvoo Affirmation Spiritual and Leadership Retreat here. The audio of each session will be available in the coming weeks. In the meantime, mark your calendars and plan to join us September 12-14 at our 2014 Annual International Conference in Salt Lake City, UT.