Communities of Reconciliation

It’s only been a few days since Amber Cantorna published her reflection “Refocusing My Family: How the Daughter of a Focus on the Family Executive Came Out as Gay.”

I don’t know Amber. And yet, I’ve heard or borne witness to variations of her story at least a hundred times in the past few years. Kids of pastors and seminary professors and plain old Christian folk who have been rejected and stigmatized by family and community for coming out.

It’s heartbreaking each and every time. And it has to stop.

Full stop.

Maybe I’ve just not been far enough down the parenting road yet, but when I hear of parents walking out on, or cutting off their children for coming out…when I hear story after story of so-called friends melting into the ether after being trusted with this confidence, I don’t even know where to start.

On my mind this week are Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel:

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

These words follow Jesus’ denunciation of cities rejecting him and his works of healing, restoration and reconciliation.

These words follow Jesus’ own recognition that his way will set family members against one another. Because the message he preached, and the community he was calling into being cut across the traditional lines that divided society.

Seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness would by its very nature set us against one another.

And yet he follows this up with words of comfort. Not words that it’ll all work itself out on its own. Not words that guarantee that these relationships will necessarily be restored. Not words that God won’t hand us anything more than we can handle.

Words that remind us “I’m with you in the midst of this,” and, “we can carry this burden together.”

Yoked together with Jesus. Yoked together with Jesus and his nascent community. We will suffer this indignity, yoked together. We will carry this burden, yoked together.

These aren’t words of inclusivity. Inclusiveness is far too weak for what Jesus is up to.

What Jesus offers is an invitation on a journey, as a part of a community that will carry each others’ sorrows and burdens, come thick or thin. That journey comes at a cost. But, Jesus seems to suggest, sticking with the status quo will be far more costly. That house of cards will tumble eventually. You’re better throwing your lot in with me. At least in this community, we’ll commit to a life reconciled to God, to the place we live, and to each other.

You can count on that.

The story, as Amber relates it, strikes me as one in which she was ready to share the burden she’d been carrying by herself for so long. She’s finally ready to reach out, and invite her family into her struggle.

Whatever the reason – and here I find it far too easy to judge – she’s left to the wolves. Perhaps it’s better that than losing the illusion of being (as she says) “the Perfect Focus Family.” But it still hurts. It comes with a cost.

As this calendar year clicks over into 2016, I know that there is no starting over. I know that there is no fresh page. I know that there is no blank slate for Amber, for any of us.

But what I hope is that 2016 will see more Christians binding themselves together as the reconciling communities Christ calls us to be.

What I hope for in 2016 is that I might grow more into my ability to offer such space for reconciliation. What I hope for in 2016 is that my own St. Brigids Community will continue to offer in Vancouver the profoundly needed ministry of reconciliation, especially for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It feels like we’re off to a good start, even if I know I still have much to learn.

Across the country I’m grateful for the witness of New Direction Ministries who embody this in their Generous Spaciousness communities. I’m grateful for The Gay Christian Network and their conference in early January.

As we enter 2016, may we pray and work that more local churches offer a wide welcome to the Jesus movement, a movement in which all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens might find rest.

Such is the cost of discipleship: that we bear each others’ burdens, as we embody and proclaim the truth of our reconciliation to God in Christ.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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