Coping with COVID: A New Hope

This week’s Coping with COVID comes from our Director of Hospitality Lily White, who recently attended the Evolving Faith Conference.

Last Friday & Saturday, October 2nd & 3rd, I attended the Evolving Faith Conference and, like so many other things, this conference was held virtually.  In the time Before, this group met in a city, inside a church, with breakout rooms, speakers, and lots of other people.  I’ve been to conferences in the past, but this was my first time at the EFC and it definitely had a distinctive feel to it.  The participants spent a lot of time listening to speeches & sermons through a screen and trying to connect with others while attending Zoom meetings and in Facebook chats.  It was . . . different.

But wow, was it different! Of the 27 speakers, musicians, poets, and chaplains, 22 of them were women, 15 were BIPoC (black, indigenous or a person of color), and 7 identified as LGBTQ+. This beautiful group of people looked different than any other faith-based conference I’ve been to before, and some of them looked like me.

It sounded different from other conferences, too. The sessions were topics like Justice, Wilderness, Belonging, and Hope for the Future.  There were discussions on how to rebuild your relationship with God after you’ve become disappointed with God’s church, people, or even God themself. We acknowledged that no matter how much we hope, there’s no going back to a Before the pandemic, there is only the After. Much like our grief, we can’t go backward, there is only forward and through. There was the realization of hope, that when the lives we once lived have changed, the people we once loved have left us, and the faith we once had is gone, we will rebuild and find another – another life, different people, and a renewed faith.  Loss is a part of life. It’s not always bad, but it does happen.  You may feel like you don’t belong anywhere, but you belong to God. You are not abandoned, God walks with you.

These are just some of the pearls I received.  These are things my heart and spirit needed to hear again.  I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been living in a bit of desert these last 4 months.  After my brother passed away, then my uncle and aunt died, some sickness and stress in my extended family, it’s been a time of wilderness, and I haven’t felt the nourishment of manna these days.  Connecting with others who look like me and hearing the messages of others who have lived their days in the wilderness and are making it through with God, has been a blessing and a balm to my soul I didn’t realize I needed.

One of my favorite messages from the conference came from author and speaker Barbara Brown Taylor.  She says, “Anticipatory hope is not enough anymore.  Participatory hope is the only kind that will work now.” She encouraged us to build a list of practices that nourish hope in the present. One practice she suggested was to “take care of your sweet self.” We often talk about the sustainability of our world and our resources, but we need to ensure the sustainability of our bodies, our soul, and our community. As someone who identifies as a helper on the enneagram scale, I find it difficult to take care of myself.  But I’ve come to realize more acutely how critical it is to feed my spirit, care for my mental health, and be good to my body.  With the good news shared from these holy people, I’ll be participating in my own hope in the coming weeks and months.

Although the pandemic took away face-to-face meetings, hugs, handshakes, energy, and singing, so much was added.  There was flexibility given to attend in your jammies or in a backyard.  Some people rented a hotel or a rental home for the weekend, so they could put themselves in a different space to soak it all in.  I found the ability to connect with so many people, to listen to many more conversations, and be gifted with a variety of personal stories while leaving the gift of my own. I’m grateful for this conference and the grace it’s given me to be vulnerable.

This conference is available to view online. If you would like to have access, you can find information on their website at www.evolvingfaith.com. The sessions are available to watch until April 1, 2021.  I highly recommend this beautiful and delightfully different experience.

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