One year ago I desperately wanted to attend the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference. I recall trying to think of cover stories for leaving for a few days so that my church and people close to me wouldn’t know where I was going. People finding out could result in questions I didn’t want anyone asking, questions that could lead to me losing my job as pastor.

It wa s all too easy for me to let the date come and go without ever registering or making plans to attend. I was afraid, not only of being discovered but of being seen for who I am at that conference.

Spend all your time hiding and authenticity feels foreign and dangerous. Fear won that day, but fear did not win in the end.

Today, I am waiting for my flight to leave from Denver, having just attended the very conference I was so afraid of one year ago.

Waiting for my flight to leave, I’m reflecting on my first Gay Christian Network conference. This turned out to be the last the last conference by that name when the name was changed to Q Christian Fellowship. It’s the ending of an era that I was glad to be present for, and the beginning of a new era that I’m thrilled to be part of.

This seems like a good time to reflect on what it’s been like to go from conservative church community to queer Christian community.

This very conference that I was so afraid to attend one year ago already feels like home, maybe as much like home as Adventist meetings and conferences ever did. Having attended several progressive and LGBT+ friendly events over the last 9 months since coming out as bisexual, I’m amazed at how many people I know as I wander around the convention center.

These are people I love and who inspire me, people who see all of me and call me good and blessed, people who understand and appreciate my ministry, and people to whom I can gush about my girlfriend and they’ll simply be happy for me. Here I am known and loved. I can drop my guard because no defense is needed. They fulfill my innate need for community in a way I’m not so sure the church I grew up in is capable of anymore, if it ever was.

These conferences bring tremendous healing to all of us. I would even say they save people.

Three months ago at a conservative and LGBT+ affirming conference called The Reformation Project in Chicago, I met a young lesbian woman. She was emotionally wrecked. Constantly on the verge of tears, she seemed fragile and vulnerable because of the criticism she’d taken.

As I talked with her I realized that she was in big trouble. She was at a Christian school that made her believe her desire for intimate love and connection with a woman was a sin. Her friends only reinforced this, telling her she could never experience the love she longed for.

TRP was good for her. She was encouraged, loved, accepted, and was able to see how many queer Christians are affirming themselves and thriving because of it. She was also exposed to solid theology that shifted her thinking and gave her hope.

Still, when I left I was afraid for her. I was afraid she wouldn’t know how to deal with the stress of rejection and loneliness.

A few days ago, at the QCF conference, I saw her again. Instantly I knew that things had changed for her. She stood taller, looked people directly in the eye, and most of all she smiled easily. Clearly she was on a totally new trajectory.

We talked for a few minutes, and she simply glowed when I told her how apparent the change was. I found out she’s doing very well and made the decision to change to a different school. She’s decided to leave behind those religious systems that brought her only death and condemnation. She is finding a better way.

I wonder what would have happened to her without QCF. I wonder what would have happened to me without this beautiful world of queer Christians. I don’t know how people made it before.

I suspect they usually abandoned their faith completely or lived lives of loneliness and judgement in church. But I know there is one more outcome that was and still is all too common. The specter of LGBT+ suicide for those in non-affirming Christian spaces is ever on my mind.

Instead, for those who are in churches and organizations that affirm them, there is hope there never was before. We get to experience Christianity with no strings attached. Love is given without qualification here. Community is unconditional.

We’re here not because we all signed a belief statement or are part of the same denomination. We don’t all behave the same way. There are a variety of different approaches to ethical questions. It’s not our uniformity that unites us. We are united because we all want to help each other through this life as followers of Jesus.

This is not Christendom where discipleship means following your pastor or the tradition and teachings that have been handed down, but where discipleship means following Jesus.

I’m here to report that it’s possible, it’s real, and it’s beautiful. Breath free, beloved, and experience the body of Christ in the fullness of authenticity, messiness, and grace.

Queer Christians are not the only ones who long for this experience of faith. The hunger is universal. From the pulpit to the pew to the classroom, Christians are tired of the judgement, but don’t know the way out.

There is a way out, a way to the gospel that is good news. This is not the gospel of conformity, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, freely given, full of Grace, Peace, and Love.

To get there we need to stop being afraid, stop covering up our authentic selves with masks and lies, and be willing to seek Jesus with our full hearts.

This is the secret that is well known to queer Christians. This is the gift we offer the church of Christ.