What the Church needs: Community
My Experience at Hope for Wholeness’s Annual Conference
By Mark Buzard, Lisbon OH
If you have ever gone on any kind of Christian retreat or stayed at a Christian camp, I believe that is a bit what community looks like, though more than that. When I think about church community, I envision Christians being more involved with each other, really caring about each other, taking care of each other, and being around each other outside of the church walls.F
I go to church Sunday morning and Sunday evening. I usually speak to a few people and carry on some conversation, usually with the same people. (We do tend to have our cliques.) I don’t go to church on Wednesday evenings for reasons I won’t share here, so most of the 52 weeks of the year, I only see my fellow church attendees on Sundays. There is no deep conversation, no sharing, no personal time.
I have a problem with that. We need fellowship, not just a few brief conversations in passing while at church for worship services. As a single guy, I may feel that void more than married people, and have less chances of filling that void; though I am sure married people may feel the same way.
The last two summers, I was able to experience a time of real community. Hope for Wholeness is a ministry/network for men and women dealing with unwanted same-sex attractions. I am one of those with same-sex attractions, that Hope for Wholeness ministers to.
They have a 4-day conference in June, and I was fortunate enough to go the last two years. What an amazing time.
Imagine you have a secret you want no one to know about. You hide it for years, afraid people will find out and condemn and ostracize you. Now imagine being at a conference center surrounded by people who have the same secret or struggle, or are family members of someone who has the same secret. It is amazing and freeing!
I found the times of worship helpful and very encouraging. The speakers, and the workshops were worth going for, and it was profitable to my soul and Christian walk to be a part of. I don’t want to minimize those blessings and what they did for me. Those things are not the most memorable parts of the conference for me though.
If you have never had a major struggle such as mine, then you cannot imagine sitting down at a table with 8-9 guys who have the same struggle. You can’t imagine what it is like to be able to freely discuss your struggles and your story, to hear their struggles and story, and have no fear of being condemned, judged, or ostracized. To look around at the tables full of people just like you: messed up people, broken people, imperfect people, people with no masks.
Every afternoon before supper, there were different groups you could go to. The group I participated in was for men only and met on the large porch of one of the conference buildings. There were usually at least 30 or so guys sitting in a circle. There was a leader that facilitated the group. Men openly shared their struggles, their past. Some had lived the gay lifestyle, some were married and cheated on their spouse with another man. One man had started the transgender process and then became a Christian,
There were times we’d gather around and pray for a man after he brokenly confessed how discouraged and how he was hurting. Hugs were freely given and words of encouragement were shared. This was community like I had never experienced! This was sharing, caring, and loving on a level I had never had among Christian brothers.
I’ve stood by while people joked about gay people. I’ve heard the hateful comments, even from Christians. I had a friend lean up to me in church after a speaker mentioned the issue and tell me that “they should just hang all those homos.”
I’ve sat in the pew for years needing love and encouragement, deathly afraid people would find out my secret. I was lonely, scared, hurting, confused, and working overtime to appear “normal” to everyone. I’d hear people’s prayer requests and knew I could never stand up and request prayer for THAT.
But at this conference, there was none of that! Masks were left off campus. New friends were made, friends who could relate to what I deal with, friends who weren’t afraid they’d catch something. I had no fears of praying about my struggles and someone hearing.didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go back to wearing a mask, having superficial conversations with Christian brothers and sisters who I only see at church on Sundays. I want more! I need more! I got a taste of true community that I never had at any church or campground. People had time for each other, people were honest and open and caring with no need for masks.
Mine has pretty much been ripped off out of weariness of wearing it, and thanks to Hope for Wholeness.
This is a “life changing event,” as they say it is. I hope you will join me in June at Jesus Above All, this year’s HFW Conference theme. I can’t wait! And consider joining us on Facebook. I’m thankful for Hope for Wholeness, the conference, and the groups. I’m thankful it provides me with encouragement and community.