It’s very early in the morning. The sun is rising and starting to stream in the window of my hotel room. I am in Seattle, a city that is new to me. I was supposed to be on a flight home early today, but it got cancelled and shifted in such a way that while I will be on a plane this afternoon, it won’t get me to Toronto until tomorrow. And so, I have some time to begin unpacking what the last few days have been like.
A conference called Inhabit by the Parish Collective is what brought me here, a gathering of people that are exploring what it means to be church in the (your) neighbourhood, with an emphasis on the sharing of stories to build communal imagination. As one who strongly believes in the power of narrative, I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about The Dale. For me this always means centering the people of our community in the story and bringing to life what journeying together means for us, in all of its messiness and beauty.
My emotions felt much like that throughout the conference: messy and somehow beautiful. I arrived into the space kind of giddy with expectation. Like so many, this was my first trip of this kind since before the pandemic and I felt really excited to be with people. I also arrived rather tender. There is a lot of big transition in my life that is still very fresh and will take time to navigate and settle. Entering any space as your full self is vulnerable. If I was going to embrace this experience as I hoped, it meant being willing to experience a real variety of things, including fun, seriousness, quick hello’s, deep conversation, questioning, laughter, early mornings, late nights, and tears.
Anyone who knows me (or even sometimes who has just met me) will attest to how easily I cry. Though this is true, I was taken aback by the force and frequency of my tears while here. Sometimes it was a song or a story. Most often it was in conversation, either while a person attentively listened or shared back with me their own challenges. There was a relatively brief group exercise that we were invited to do which led to a disarming moment of connection. A lot of people offered me unprompted words of encouragement that were exactly what I needed and shockingly on point. I am prayerfully working through all of this.
I find that when I am attentive to my sadness, it actually opens the door for great joy. Inhabit was that too. We got to walk the city and eat meals together, share cab rides and drink coffee. There was much stimulating conversation about faith, church, psychology, neighbourhood, equity, along with so many other things. I had a variety of encounters with people living outside, made friends with two little girls at a dance competition in the same hotel I was staying at who invited me to watch their routine (I sadly couldn’t), and met someone who goes to my cousin’s church- reminding me yet again that the world can actually be surprisingly small.
It was amazing to be in Seattle with a group of Canadians who are my beloved friends and encouraging to connect with other folks from up north, expanding the circle. Our group knows how to party, and so we brought that energy too. I am also grateful to have been embraced by so many people from the US. This was a special few days. Though I am admittedly exhausted in this moment, the energy percolating is real. The processing has just begun.