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  • Writer's pictureLuke Dowding

Retreat To Move Forward

It is 2020 and the validity of so called “gay conversion therapy” somehow remains a hot topic issue not just legislatively, but also in faith communities. In this practice, it is considered possible to “cure” the sexuality or gender identity of an individual – almost like a factory-settings reset that has the power to restore you to heterosexuality and/or being cisgender. This harmfully named “therapy” has already been made illegal in a number of countries, and the UK is currently slowly on track to do the same.

However, in faith communities it remains a challenge to both accurately identify this practice and challenge it in a way that does not impinge upon the rights of religious freedom. It is in this context that many LGBTQ+ people of faith find themselves in – many may not have found themselves in circumstances that could be directly described as “conversion therapy”, but the pervading culture and sense of identity in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, in particular, is rooted in that belief that cisgender heterosexuality is the correct state for people, and any variation is in fact a deviation. This damages not only a sense of self, but also the ability to form lasting relationships, maintain social and professional connections, and find safe communities in which both their sexuality or gender identity and their faith can be accepted and valued.

The impact of Covid-19 on the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ also ought not be underrated, reducing already limited access to spaces of safety and community. The LGBT Foundation produced a report earlier in the year on the reasons why LGBTQ+ people are disproportionally impacted by Covid-19.

There are of course exceptions to the rule, with a growing number of faith communities and faith-based organisations working to challenge this status quo. Yet even so, the needs of LGBTQ+ people are rarely considered in faith contexts, placing an often-immeasurable strain on their wellbeing.

OneBodyOneFaith was founded as the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement in 1976, and since then has worked tirelessly to challenge the Christian church to move towards inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ people. We have recognised the intolerable actions of Christians and churches, and the impact it has on those who are both Christian and LGBTQ+; this sometimes manifests in physical harm, but often emotionally and with a direct negative impact on mental health.

In 2019, we sought to begin to support these emotional needs by providing a space in which LGBTQ+ Christians can find respite in a retreat context, whilst also building up tools for resilience and ongoing wellbeing.

Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be.”

David Whyte

What is your relationship with the rest and repose?

Our retreats are a treasured space to reflect, restore, create and connect.

In these frantic times there is a greater need for us to withdraw, to retreat from the world in order to reflect and pause so that we are ready to re-emerge resourced and refuelled.

Working in small groups we build an environment of safety for people to share their experiences, their challenges and their wisdom.

Our sessions are interactive, supportive creative and playful. We engage with our surroundings as we work with our questions through walking and explore who we are through images, metaphors writing and shaping clay. We focus on care for your mind, body heart and soul.

There is also time for solitude, personal space and prayer.

Our retreats also work with the beauty and natural rhythm of the seasons which complement the faith calendar.

Our participants deepen their knowledge of themselves and their relationships with others. They also form a new community of support as they return to their daily lives. We follow up with ongoing group coaching sessions to support the development.

Previous participants say:

“I did not realise how much I needed the retreat! The opportunity to pause and share the heaviness and cost of activism with others who could understand was life giving. The facilitation by Luke and Liz was incredibly helpful, creative and life giving.”

“It was a gift to be able to connect with a small group of people with shared and different experiences in ways that I had never considered before. Very quickly we managed to find a shared language of what it felt like to have a faith, and feel connected with Christ but yet were so often side-lined by the institutions who didn't like or felt threatened by who we were. I feel like I have made beautiful friends and companions for life - we are all searching, wandering, nomadic people looking for a home - and for that short weekend, we found one. It has been beautiful to continue to journey with such a group, and know even when it feels like it, we're not alone.”

“The space at retreat was so valuable, I'm not very good at taking time to check in with myself so having an intentional time to pause was really helpful for me, it's something that I definitely took away and have been working on since. The environment that everyone worked hard to create was open and accepting which made it easy to share openly and I'm

really thankful for that.”

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1

The Othona Community, Essex

October 2019


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