By Abdel Sepulveda, Dignity/Boston member
On November 14, 2013, I left work and drove straight to Logan Airport for an evening flight to Portland. My final destination was the Menucha Retreat and Conference Center in Corbett, OR. Although I had been to many retreats before, this one felt like my first one. I didn’t know anyone that was attending, and worried that I could not afford being away for four days with all of the work I had back at the office. Despite my apprehension I got in the plane. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey that would prove to be not only life changing, but that would also cement my call to ministry to the Latino/Latina and greater American community as an openly gay Latino man.
The A La Familia Retreat I participated in is the product of Unidas, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The three organizations realized that translating English resources for LGBT people of faith was not sufficient to reach out to Latino/Latina families who are almost clueless about what to do after a loved one comes out as LGBT. The decision was made that a resource needed to be developed by Latinos/Latinas for Latinos/Latinas, which resulted in the bilingual book named A La Familia (To the Family). I first heard of the book at the DignityUSA Convention in Minnesota, where I went to the “A La Familia” workshop. I met with Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera after the workshop. She took my information, told me that she had a project for me, and handed me A La Familia.
This book framed our conversations and our experiences during the retreat. Sixteen strangers came together from all over the nation to experience a new way of talking about our families, Scripture, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Amidst the Oregonian fog, these strangers quickly became ‘familia’ as everyone was open to the Spirit and Grace of God that brought us together. We experienced many dark nights of the soul together and alone during our four days at Menucha. We also shared our stories and struggles with the “terror texts,” worshiped, sang, danced, and laughed as we knew that we are beautifully created and that God knitted us in our mother’s wombs just the way we are.
Every activity of the weekend was designed to make us go inward, to confront our internalized phobias, to heal, to embrace, to celebrate who we are, and to empower us to talk to our family, friends, and neighbors about what it means to be created in God’s image and be a faith-filled LGBT Latino or Latina.
By the last day of the retreat, I said what Peter said to Jesus during the transfiguration: “It is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three tents.” My new familia agreed, laughed, and then we gathered for a beautiful worship service and shared in Communion.
We left as official “A La Familia” trainers. We were commissioned to go directly into our communities to facilitate conversations centered around ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, and faith. Please pray for our ministry so that our familia may grow bigger and stronger as we share our stories, and God’s love for everyone, with the world.